Cask of Amontillado and Unreliable Narrator Mental Essay

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Cask of Amontillado and Unreliable Narrator

Mental Disorder and Poe's Unreliable Narrator

Edgar Allan Poe is most known for his fascinating tales of the macabre and grotesque. Many of Poe's short tales are told from an unreliable perspective in which the narrator tells the events that have occurred as he interprets them. Furthermore, these tales of the macabre often explore the concepts of paranoia and murder. These themes are prevalent in "The Cask of Amontillado," the tale of Montressor, a man who lures his supposed friend, Fortunato, to his death because of an unknown slight against him. Several elements make the narrator a fascinating and unreliable character including his psychological state and the imp of the perverse; unlike in "The Imp of the Perverse" and "The Tell-Tale Heart" in which the narrators accept they are inflicted with some sort of mental disorder, in "The Cask of Amontillado," Montressor is not admit guilt, nor does he acknowledge his behavior is socially and morally unacceptable.

"The Cask of Amontillado" is the tale of Montressor as he conspires to and successfully sentences his friend, Fortunato, to death for an unknown slight against him. The story takes place during carnival season, when it is guaranteed that people will be drinking and partying to their heart's content. This environment provides Montressor with the perfect opportunity to lure Fortunato into an elaborate, underground trap. Montressor is able to manipulate Fortunato into accompanying him by insinuating that Fortunato might be too busy partying and enjoying himself to taste test and verify the quality of the Amontillado and that a rival connoisseur, Luchesi, should taste the Amontillado. Insulted, Fortunato assures Montressor that he is more qualified to determine the liquor's quality and retorts, "Luchesi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry" (Poe). Ironically, this retort reinforces Montressor's contention that Luchesi is a wine connoisseur as Fortunato falsely comments, "Amontillado is not Sherry," when in fact, it is (Poe, "The Cask of Amontillado").

In "Poe and the Powers of the Mind," Robert Shulman contends, "Poe has real insight into that basically irrational strategy by which the mind attempts to preserve itself from its own forces of madness, disease, and disintegration by rigidly isolating itself and by assuming that the threat is external when in fact it is internal" (248). In "The Cask of Amontillado," Poe builds upon the psychological concepts of delusion, hallucination, and paranoia present in the narrators of "The Imp of the Perverse" and "The Tell-Tale Heart." In "The Imp of the Perverse," the narrator attempts to explain how certain behavior is "an innate and primitive principle of human action" and that it cannot be explained through scientific mapping and analysis such as phrenology (Poe, "The Imp of the Perverse"). In The Anatomy of Evil, Michael H. Stone argues there are several factors that influence a killer's behavior. These factors are presented in the classic nature vs. nurture paradigm with a third category consisting of a combination of both factors. Stone classifies personality disorders such as antisocial, psychopathic, schizoid, sadistic, paranoid, and impulsive-aggressive behaviors as being inherent to an individual's natural environment (Stone 201). Poe is able to integrate these concepts only into "The Imp of the Perverse," which begins as an essay on phrenology and psychology, but also into the narrators themselves. For example, it can be argued that while the narrator in "The Imp of the Perverse" was able to present a scientifically credible explanation for what drove his behavior, the narrator in "The Tell-Tale Heart" persistently claims he is not mad and the narrator in "The Cask of Amontillado" does not consider mental illness as a factor in his behavior. In "The Imp of the Perverse," the narrator admits that he could not contain himself and acted on impulsive behavior, dejectedly confessing, "I am one of the many uncounted victims of the Imp of the Perverse" (Poe, "The Imp of the Perverse"). There is also evidence to support an argument that the narrator in "The Tell-Tale Heart" suffered from paranoia, impulsive-aggressive behavior, and possibly schizophrenia. The narrator admits that his attitude towards his neighbor was influenced by his perception that one of his neighbor's eyes was evil by declaring, "it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye" (Poe, "The Tell-Tale Heart). Moreover, this narrator denies his madness, yet admits he is inflicted with a disease, and opens the story with the claim, "TRUE! --nervous --very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses --not destroyed --not dulled them" (Poe, "The Tell-Tale Heart"). On the other hand, there is evidence to support an argument that Montressor is a psychopath. Psychopathy was first systematically described by Hervey M. Cleckly, a psychiatrist at the Medical College of Georgia (Lilienfeld & Arkowitz). Character traits often embodied by psychopaths include superficial charm, "self-centered, dishonest, and undependable" behavior coupled with engaging in "irresponsible behavior for no apparent reason other than the sheer fun of it" (Lilienfeld & Arkowitz). Furthermore, psychopaths are "devoid of guilt, empathy and love…have callous interpersonal and romantic relationships…[often] offer excuse for their reckless and often outrageous actions, placing blame on others instead" (Lilienfeld & Arkowitz). Montressor embodies many, if not most, of these traits. His superficial charm and dishonesty is exhibited through his interactions with Fortunato and the concealment of his true intentions for getting Fortunato to follow him into the vaults. Additionally, self-centeredness is one of the motivations Montressor uses to murder his friend; Montressor's unreliability as a narrator is made most evident when it comes to determining his motivation to attack Fortunato. In "The Cask of Amontillado," Montressor hides behind his family's motto, "Nemo me impune lacessit," which means "nothing attacks me without impunity" (Poe, "The Cask of Amontillado"). Montressor uses this saying as an excuse to seek vengeance for a crime that only Montressor is aware of and consequently blames Fortunato for his own death. Because only Montressor knows what the slight against him is and the reader is not privy to this information, Montressor engages in irresponsible, unwarranted, behavior solely for his amusement. Ironically, Montressor can be translated to mean my treasure and thus, by entombing Fortunato, and the light-hearted comment of "there came forth in return only a jingling of the bells" from the space where Fortunato was immured indicates that Montressor experienced amusement (Poe, "The Cask of Amontillado"). By hiding behind his family's motto, Montressor attempts to externalize the conflict he has with Fortunato but fails to recognize that conflict he has with him is internal as it is only Montressor that is aware of the slight against his person and family name. Given the high possibility Montressor is a psychopath, it is highly unlikely that what he was relayed in his tale can be considered to be reliable aside from his "justified" murder and entombment of Fortunato, whose remains' location are known only to Montressor and are consequently his buried treasure.

In "The Cask of Amontillado," Montressor bears several similarities to the narrator in "The Imp of the Perverse." In this story, Poe attempts to define the trait, which he refers to as "the imp of the perverse," that influences individuals in his stories to act irrationally. In "The Imp of the Perverse," Poe defines the imp of perversion as a self-destructive instinct, which in the case of Montressor is the destruction of the person Fortunato thought he knew to be his friend. Additionally, Montressor's perceived accomplishment of having successfully destroyed not only his friend but any evidence of the crime he committed echoes the narrator in "The Imp of the Perverse" who declares, "I am safe -- I am safe -- yes -- if I be not fool enough to make an open confession" (Poe, "The Imp of the Perverse"). Montressor differs from many of the narrators in other Poe short stories including "The Imp of the Perverse," "The Black Cat," and "The Tell-Tale Heart," because unlike the narrators in these stories, he does not give into the imp of the perverse and inadvertently reveal his crime to the authorities, however, it can be argued that Montressor's need to tell his story, regardless of if he is apprehended, and his admission of guilt to the reader, is evidence of his inability to resist the imp of the perverse.

Montressor differs vastly from the narrators in "The Imp of the Perverse" and "The Tell-Tale Heart" in the manner he approaches the committal of his crime. While the narrators in "The Imp of the Perverse" and "The Tell-Tale Heart" are plagued by guilt and subsequently confess to their wrong doings, Montressor does not appear to feel guilt or remorse, but rather appears to believe he was entitled to kill Fortunato because his family motto deemed it permissible. For instance, the narrator in "The Imp of the Perverse," admits, "At first, I made an effort to shake off this nightmare of the soul. I walked vigorously -- faster -- still faster -- at…[continue]

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