One of the main themes of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask Of Amontillado is revenge. This summary theme, it’ll demonstrate how dramatic irony is used all along with the short story as a way of reminding us of the true intentions of the character who vowed revenge.
Firstly, a brief summary of the short story: the story is supposed to happen more than a hundred years ago (it was first published in 1846) during Italian Carnival festivities. The main character, a man called Montressor, feels terribly offended, even insulted by a friend named Fortunato, and firmly decides to take this friend’s life.
In order to achieve his aim, Montressor elaborates a plan which consists basically of two steps: first, to take Fortunato to the catacombs of the Montressors, and second, to arrest Fortunato down there forever.
Irony first appears in Fortunato’s name, once we are made aware, in the second paragraph, that he is going to be killed, but it (the irony) continues present during all the short story as something to call our attention to what is really happening.
In the second paragraph, Montressor states that in spite of his decision of killing Fortunato, he continued smiling in his face ( Fortunato’s ), but he adds: “…and he did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation.” So, when they meet each other they behaved as always, but now Montressor’s smile had another meaning for himself.
Certain evening, “during the supreme madness of carnival season…”, Montressor meets his “friend” Fortunato and Montressor is very kind, even affectionate towards him. He greets Fortunato… “My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met…”. The reader that knows Montressor’s real intentions notices here that this greeting has another meaning, different from what it would mean if we did not know about Montressor’s plan.
Once we are aware of Montressor’s intentions, we perceive that the real meaning of the sentence could be something like MY ODIOUS ENEMY FORTUNATO, IT IS BAD LUCK FOR YOU HAVING MET ME, for instance. Here, the irony dresses with a bitter taste of s*dist disguised angry.
However, there are passages in which is impossible to assure that Montressor was using irony in his speech. For example, in the passage that Fortunato says- “Enough (…), the cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough.” and Montressor replies- “True-true,…”, we cannot be sure that Montressor said that because he knew Fortunato was going to die by a different cause. Perhaps Montressor said that without thinking that he himself would be the cause of Fortunato’s death, or at least the agent to cause it.
Another very interesting passage in which there is explicit or implicit irony is when the two men talk about Montressors’ arms. In this case, the irony has meaning by itself. It is not a sentence said dubiously, but an object that has its own unique meaning. The Montressors’ arms consisted of an image of someone’s foot treading a rampant serpent whose fangs were embedded in the heel.
And the motto was, Nemo me impune lacessit, which means no one insults me with impunity. Fortunato does not know that everything symbolized in Montressors’ arms is going to happen to him. He is the “foot” that is going to be bit by the revengeful “Montressor’s fangs”. It is another reminding of what is the real Montressor’s purpose in taking Fortunato to the catacombs.
All these examples demonstrate how Edgar Allan Poe uses dramatic irony in his short story to call the readers’ attention to the double meaning of words, and for the extension, as one of Poe’s favorite motifs, the duplicity of human nature.