Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Fatal Flaw

Conventionally, one may never compare Edgar Allen Poe's brief revenge fantasy, "The Cask of Amontillado," to the tragedies of William Shakespeare. However, there is a key characteristic that threads the works together. In this particular short story, as well as all of Shakespeare's tragedies, one or more of the protagonists is led to there demise by a single fatal flaw. Ironically, the flaw is a characteristic that would traditionally be considered noble until taken to an extreme. Romeo and Juliet had their passion and love, Brutus his pride in Rome. Like in Julius Caesar, the fatal flaw in "Cask" that compels both men to venture through the dark vaults of Montresor is pride.Very rarely are two opposite characters linked by the same flaw.

First, one must examine Montresor, the character through which the story is told. Montresor is man driven by the defense of his pride. This fact is evident through the motto on his family crest: "No one may insult me without being punished." and more importantly it is evident from his actions and words throughout the story. The story opens with Montresor revealing to the reader that his nemesis, Fortunato, has injured and insulted him numerous times. What should make the reader aware that Montresor is being driven by his fatal flaw is the fact that in no point in the story does he reveal just exactly what those injuries and insults are. Moreover, Fortunato never seems to suspect that Montresor is in anyway angry or insulted. Perhaps this is because the insults and injuries were negligible, or perhaps imagined? While this flaw did not prove physically damaging to Montresor, it has no doubt wrecked untold havoc on his psyche.

Next, the character of Fortunato, for whom the fatal flaw translated into literal fatality. The man who allegedly offended Montresor is described as a jovial conessieur of wines. Montresor believes himself to be the foremost conessieur in the area, but is in direct competition with a man named Luchresi. Montresor uses Fortunato's pride to lure him deep into the vaults and ultimately his grave. Several times Montresor eggs Fortunato on by gently requesting to take Fortunato back as his health fails. Montresor would have no problem asking Luchresi for help. Yet, Fortunato soldiers on.

What makes this story so appealling is the way in which Poe uses the same flaw to paint two very different characters. Could it be that Poe wrote the story as a cautionary tale to not let our vanities control our decisions?

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