Taking The Law Into Your Own Hands In The Cask Of Amontilliado

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Think of a time where someone hurt you. Was it an insult about the way you looked? Did they tease you about the clothes you wore? Did they say something unkind about your family? Or maybe there was a robbery and they frightened you. Most people could name one person who they blame for hurting them at some point in their life. Understanding how emotions and thoughts influence behavior is important for people, especially those who have intense emotions. Knowledge about emotions and the thoughts that strengthen or soften those emotions can help people develop ways to better manage their actions. One urge that people experience but rarely discuss is revenge. The struggle with revenge is centuries old. Shakespeare said, ‘If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?’ Shakespeare thought revenge was normal. We seek revenge on someone who might have done something wrong, either intentionally or unintentionally. But how to we overcome this sorrow? Do we choose to move on, or do we go through with acts of vengeance? Do we become vindictive people, only focused on causing as much pain to them, as they did to us? In both short stories, “Killings” by Andre Dubus and “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe, the main characters exact revenge on those who wronged them. Although their reasons are widely different, both men took the law into their own hands and sought revenge. But who was justified? In only one story do we find out what truly cased the killer to exact revenge.

“Killings” is about Matt and Ruth Fowlers struggle to come to terms with the brutal murder of their son, Frank. Frank’s murderer, Richard uses his family’s wealth and connections which allow him to walk free and continue to live in town while on bail and awaiting trial. Convinced that Richard won’t receive an adequate jail sentence, Matt decides to take matters in his own hands (going above the law). The story starts out on an August morning at the funeral for Frank Fowler, the twenty-one year old son of Matt and Ruth. Before they even leave the gravesite, Matt’s oldest son, Steve, voices his desire for revenge, saying “I should kill him”, implying murdering Richard, which we don’t find out just yet. Although not told in chronological order, the story goes on about how Frank starts dating Mary Ann Strout a month after her separation from her husband Richard. Frank falls in love with Mary Ann, despite their age difference (and the fact that her divorce isn’t official). Richard becomes increasingly violent and threatening. During a heated argument, Richard shoots Frank at point blank in front of his children. After the murder, Richard’s continued presence in town upsets Ruth, ‘beneath her eyes there was swelling from the three days she had suffered” so Matt kidnaps Richard and makes it seem like he skipped bail and subsequently shoots him. Matt turned to violence to avenge his sons death, but this did not provide him any closure and caused him guilt.

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“The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe tells a different story of revenge. Although we don’t know how, we know Montresor plans to kill Fortunato. He wants to exact this revenge, however, in a measured way, without placing himself at risk. He decides to use Fortunato’s fondness for wine against him. During the carnival season, Montresor approaches Fortunato. He tells Fortunato that he has something that could pass for Amontillado, a light Spanish sherry. Montresor tells Fortunato that if he is too busy, he will ask a man named Luchesi to taste it. Fortunato apparently considers Luchesi a competitor and claims that this man could not tell Amontillado from other types of sherry. Fortunato is anxious to taste the wine and to determine for Montresor whether or not it is truly Amontillado. Fortunato insists that they go to Montresor’s vaults. Once in the vaults, Fortunato starts coughing (due to the nitre on the walls. “Ugh! ugh! ugh!—ugh! ugh! ugh!—ugh! ugh! ugh!—ugh! ugh! ugh!—ugh! ugh! ugh! My poor friend found it impossible to reply for many minutes. ‘It is nothing,’ he said, at last”. Montresor tries to give him an out by saying, “Come,’ I said, with decision, ‘we will go back; your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter. We will go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible. Besides, there is Luchesi—’. Montresor does not care about Fortunato’s health but acts like it. Once to the vault where Montresor tells Fortunato the wine is being stored, he chains the slow-footed Fortunato to a stone and walls up the entrance leaving Fortunato behind. Poe uses color imagery in addition to irony. Montresor wears all black (representing death) to the carnival whereas Fortunato is dressed in bright colors as a jester (and ironically is tragically fooled by Montresor’s masked motives).

On the surface, one major difference I noticed between these two short stories, was just the sheer length of the stories. “Killings” by Andre Dubus is more than four times as long as “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe. Dubus’ writing style of this short story is precise, refined, and straight from the heart. While Poe’s writing style uses a play on words, and you can find irony in every line of the story. In “Killings” the narrator is a third-person omniscient narrator whereas in “The Cask of Amontillado” it is told in first person; the narrator is Montresor, the killer. The way each story is written works well for the story being told. In “The Cask of Amontillado”, we go through this journey with Montresor. Having written from his perspective we are able to get an insight of what he is feeling and thinking throughout the whole passage. In “Killings” the omniscient natator talks about everyone, giving a little background about each of them. But, mostly talks through the perspective of Matt Fowler who killed Richard Strout for killing his youngest son Frank. I like that it wasn’t the killer narrating this time because then we were able to know what Richard was thinking before Matt killed him. “He was making with my wife,” is the explanation Richard gives Matt, for killing his son. I could not imagine what the world would become if everyone sought revenge for someone who insulted them or started dating their soon to be ex-wife. It was Gandhi who said, ‘An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.’

Both stories are about revenge and secret murder. In “Killings” Matt’s friend Willis asks Frank how often he “has thought about it” (killing Richard) and Matt answers, “Every day since sees him all the time. It makes her cry”. In “The Cask of Amontillado” Montresor opens the story with “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge”. Both main characters plan revenge and feel justified in their actions, but only one of the stories truly shares the reasoning behind why they sought out revenge in the first place. In “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe, Montresor never shared what Fortunato’s “thousand injuries” and “insult” were, although throughout the story, Fortunato continues to insult him, by jokingly asking about Montresor’s family crest and using the hand movement of the Masons, a secret organization (of whom Montresor claims to be a part of) as proof he really isn’t a part of it. He is detailed about how he tricks Fortunato into following him into the cellar and how he walls up the entrance to Fortunato’s small crypt, thereby trapping Fortunato inside (what a horrible death) but he never specifies what Fortunato did in the first place to deserve death. Although Montresor is recounting the story of his revenge fifty years later, he does not sound to have as guilty of a conscious as Matt does in “Killings”. In “Killings” by Andre Dubus, we find out how brutally Frank Fowler was murdered by Richard Stout and how Richard Stout was subsequently murdered by Matt Fowler. Dubus used foreshadowing at the funeral in the very beginning to elude to another murder and was clear in his cause and effect scenario for his short shorty. Matt shooting Richard in the head (similar to how Richard shot Frank) is more understandable than how Montresor walls up the entrance to the cellar where Fortunato is chained up inside. Matt had a clear reason for wanting to murder the person who murdered his son, whereas Montresor does not give specific reasons for wanting to fill Fortunato other than he insulted him.  

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