Thursday, January 6, 2011

Edgar Allan Poe: The Cask of Amontillado

This past year, I have been reading some works that high school English class had all but ruined for me. Great Expectations is really a good book (sorry, Mrs. Sutphin, I'm sure you tried your best, but our minds were not fully formed and weighted down with ennui). And...Edgar Allan Poe! He just didn't take with me the first time, but the fact that Baudelaire translated him (in the 1840s!) has lead me back to try again. I picked up a complete tales & poems at Borders for $8, poured myself a half-mug of sherry, and settled down in my library.

The Cask of Amontillado got my attention right away. I'm sure we had to read this in school, it's a see-he's-cool-guy-if-he-writes-this story. The narrator tells us about a little thing he did 50 years ago (yawn), it's that he took his revenge on an adversary by walling him up alive in his basement. Now this story really spoke to me. No, not because I am an angel of vengeance with a long enemies list (I'm really not). It resonated psychologically with some of the things I have been thinking and blogging about. If you want a good analysis, then go here:
I am giving what I saw in this story, I make no claim to great literary interpretation.

The two characters, Montresor and Fortunato, interact throughout the story. When I first read it years ago, I sympathized with the narrator, Montresor. He has endured the wrong and taken action. But now I see them in a different light. Amontillado is a psychodrama, a duel between two competing aspects of a single personality. Montresor is the serious one, judgemental, religious, hierarchical minded, a calculating, humorless stay-at-home. In Freaks & Geeks terms, he is Lindsay Weir the mathlete. In Hongloumeng, he is Jia Baoyu the Confucian student who passed the National Examinations. Fortunato is the jester, curious, arrogant, spontaneous...lead by his emotions and his pride. Lindsay Weir the freak, Baoyu in the garden, on his way to becoming a wandering Taoist monk. Yes, I know I am stretching Poe's characterizations a bit, but these connections just jumped out at me. Montresor could not endure the Fortunato part of himself, so he buried it deep inside him. Will Lindsay repress her freak side to become a tool of the establishment? Would Baoyu have stayed to be a government functionary like his father? Montresor overcomes Fortunato and lives his adult life through (50 years) without him.

To live in this world we must somehow come to terms with it, and the world perfers the Montresors to the Fortunatos. My Fortunato side is an important part of my identity, yet day after day I must be the Montresor and suppress Fortunato. At least I have not walled him up in an inaccessable place. I write, draw, sing loudly to Lady Gaga (when I am alone in the car^^), visit my favorite tree, let my imagination flow freely (sometimes). But I do not float so far away that I cannot sit in my office becide the morgue and do my work.

So, thank you for a great story, Mr. Poe! (Even if I have twisted it somewhat...) I am sorry that it took me over 30 years to get back to you, and I look forward to reading more!

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