Use of the Single Effect in A Cask of Amontillado
Edgar Allan Poe's "A Cask of Amontillado" is perhaps the most famous tale of terror ever written. Montresor, the story's narrator, leads the reader through his revenge on Fortunato. Montresor entices Fortunato into the dark recesses of the family catacombs with the promise of a very fine wine. At the climax of the story, Montresor shackles Fortunato to a wall and seals him away forever behind brick and mortar. In all of Poe's short stories he attempts to convey "a certain unique or single effect." "A Cask of Amontillado" expresses its dark view of human intention by using elements of irony, foreshadowing, and metaphor. The first person point of view also lends itself to an exploration of the inner secrets of Montresor.
The major theme in the story is the deep hatred buried within the outwardly congenial Montresor. This makes it vital that the story be told with Montresor's thoughts known to the reader. The tale simply would not work if it were told from Fortunato's point of view, or from a dramatic/objective angle. An omniscient view would function, but by knowing only Montresor's thoughts the reader develops a trust in him, and this causes the story's theme to have a more personal effect on the reader.
"A Cask of Amontillado" is replete with ironic statements and situations. Fortunato's very name is ironic given his horrific fate. At the beginning of the story, when Montresor divulges his theories on proper revenge, he says, "A wrong is unredressed when retibution overtakes its redresser." This is ironic (and a bit amusing) as Montresor is utterly consumed by his hatred of Fortunato. Then, during their descent into the catacombs, Montresor tries several times to con...
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...ontresor's sociable facade, then the catacombs below symbolize the hate within him. Poe gives explicit descriptions fo the foul caverns. They are "insufferably damp . . . encrusted with nitre." The "founess of the air" nearly extinguishes their torches. Poe describes the "white web-work which gleams from these cavern walls." Clearly Poe's desired efect is to expose the evil that consumes from within.
Each of the literary devices used in "A Cask of Amontillado" serves to reinforce Poe's single effect. As Poe himself says in "The Importance of the Single Effect in a Prose Tale," an author "invents such incidents--he then combines such events as may best aid him in establishing this preconceived effect." The use of the first person perspective along with some irony, foreshadowing, and metaphor aid the delivery of Poe's single effect in "A Cask of Amontillado."