When used efficiently, the characterization and voice of a story can prevent the reader from condemning a character’s actions. In horror novels, readers enjoy reading about plots that contain horrific bloody details on the deaths of innocent victims. Usually, the thought of death is painful for most humans but when we are engaged in a book we overlook the victims agony, instead we feed off of it to make ourselves feel complete and jubilant. We also make ourselves believe that the villains always have a motive to kill or harm others.
This motive is our sanctuary. We are so sadistic and malevolent that we think that any motive to kill is acceptable, and this allows us to imagine ourselves as the killer. The characterization of characters and how the story is told can also make us believe that the killer is not truly the villain because we are told to think that the victim caused their own death. In “The Cask of Amontillado” Poe uses characterization and voice to prevent the reader from condemning Montressor’s actions.
This is shown when Montressor immediately admits to the reader that he is going to commit a crime, Montressor also tells us exactly how he kills Fortunato, and Fortunato is characterized as a very proud person. In “The Cask of Amontillado” Montressor immediately admits to the reader that he will kill Fortunato, because Fortunato insulted him, from this we realize that there is an external conflict between the two men. Montressor tells the reader that “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could; but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge” (Poe, 1).
This means that Montressor is sick of Fortunato, and wants revenge because Fortunato goaded him. Montressor’s motive for killing Fortunato was because he was insulted by him. The voice of the story makes the reader forgive Montressor for wanting to kill a person because he had a motive for doing so. In addition, Montressor also states that he wants to punish Fortunato. Montressor makes this very clearly when he says “I must not only punish, but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser” (Poe, 1).
Montressor wants to punish Fortunato without having to be punished himself, because he thinks that would be superfluous. This is how Montressor is going to kill Fortunato. He is going to kill him very mysteriously, so no one can assume that he was the one that committed the murder. Finally, Montressor admits to the reader that he will commit a crime, which he will not be accused of committing, because Montressor admits that he will commit a crime due to a motive the reader slightly forgives him and wonders how the conflict between Fortunato and Montressor will end.
Edgar Allan Poe uses the voice of Montressor as first person to narrate “The Cask of Amontillado”, Montressor just so happens to be the murderer. First person narratives make us think that what is being said should be reliable, because they are telling us exactly what they have encountered. Throughout the story Montressor tells us exactly how he kills Fortunato, though his eyes. This makes us feel less sympathetic about Fortunato’s death because we are seeing it though the eyes of the killer. This causes us to feel as though we are the ones killing Fortunato.
In other words, since we are sadistic creatures from birth, we over look the fact that we are witnessing a crime punishable by death, instead we are encouraging Montressor to continue his deed to see how Fortunato will die. Montressor begins his deed by luring Fortunato into a catacomb where he has asked Fortunato to test some amontillado. The two men continue until Fortunato coughs heavily. This causes Montressor to say “we will go back; your health is precious” (Poe, 2). Montressor tries to persuade Fortunato that he is sick and that he should return home, but Fortunato refuses to.
This question is asked a number of times throughout “The Cask of Amontillado” and every time it is asked the sadistic reader hopes that Fortunato will not turn back, so we can see how he dies. Montressor and Fortunato continue into the catacombs until they reach a niche where Fortunato is forced into while Montressor begins to “vigorously wall up the entrance of the niche” (Poe, 4). The stacking of the bricks to build a wall is seen though Montressor’s eyes, so the reader feels as if they are Montressor and they are the ones building the wall.
This prevents the reader from feeling any sorrow for Fortunato because we are sadistic creatures that enjoy causing pain and lamentation. Lastly, the use of first person narrative allows the reader to connect to the narrator and forget about the suffering of another person’s death, because they feel as though they are Montressor committing the crime. In general, when we are reading about inflicting pain on someone we do not think about the person dying, instead we think about the person that is killing.
In “The Cask of Amontillado” Fortunato is characterized as a foolish arrogant drunkard that caused his own death. Fortunato is given many opportunities to turn back, but he continues on into the catacombs. When Montressor gives Fortunato the chance to return home he always concludes it with “besides there is Luchesi-” (Poe, 2). The idea of another person testing the wine is a terrible thought for Fortunato because he is very proud of his connoisseurship for fine wine, and wants to prove to Montressor that his taste for wine is far greater than that of Luchesi’s.
This is how Fortunato brought his death upon himself, because he could not help but prove to Montressor that he has a greater taste for wine than Luchesi. Following this further, Fortunato is a foolish man that actually believes that Montressor wants him to test some Amontillado. Even when Montressor is sealing up the niche, which basically means that Fortunato is going to die, Fortunato is absurd enough to think that is it all a joke and laughs about it “Ha! ha! ha! – he! he! he! – a very good joke indeed- an excellent jest” (Poe, 5).
When Fortunato says this, he still does not understand that he is going to die by the hands of Montressor. He is a fool to think that what is happening to him is all a joke. It is quite obvious that the Amontillado is a fallacy, and that being chained to a wall inside of a niche is a portent of a dolorous death. Fortunato should have realized that entering the catacombs would bring him to his death, but instead he follows Montressor though the catacombs, not expecting anything along the way.
Fortunato is a gullible fool to think that Montressor is doing all of this just for some laughs and that he will actually let Fortunato test some Amontillado. When in reality Montressor is planning to kill him. Therefore, Fortunato’s arrogance and foolishness cost him his life. In conclusion, Montressor is a remorseless killer, but the use of characterization and voice prevents the reader from thinking that Montressor is the villain. Poe begins “The Cask of Amontillado” by stating that Montressor will commit a crime due to a motive, this allows the reader to immediately want to forgive Montressor because he admits that he will do wrong.
Poe also leads us into the malevolent mind of Montressor by telling the story in first person and shows us step by step how the death of Fortunato occurs through the eyes of Montressor. Poe characterizes the victim as an arrogant foolish drunkard, so the reader does not necessarily see him as innocent or feel bad about his death. Therefore, the use of characterization and voice can dramatically change a person’s perspective on death and killing. I leave you with one question: Are we not as cruel and sadistic as the texts we read?