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You are watching: Suspense in the cask of amontillado

The opening sentence establishes a revenge plot, and the narrator asserts that he must "punish with impunity" for the unnamed wrong done to him. The tone is thus established from the first paragraph as dark and vindictive, leading to initial feelings of suspense.

Poe also crafts an unreliable narrator to...

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The opening sentence establishes a revenge plot, and the narrator asserts that he must "punish with impunity" for the unnamed wrong done to him. The tone is thus established from the first paragraph as dark and vindictive, leading to initial feelings of suspense.

Poe also crafts an unreliable narrator to further the suspense. What exactly has Fortunato done to Montresor? What are these "injuries" the narrator has "borne" and which are so severe that Fortunato deserves to die for them? We never know, but we do know that the narrator is so deceitful that he is confident "that neither by word nor deed given Fortunato cause to doubt good will." This narrator with an unnamed grudge, who is able to lie so effectively that his victim never suspects him, certainly furthers the story"s suspense.

The murder plot begins in a suspenseful and ominous setting:

It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season, that I encountered my friend.

Night is falling. There is "madness" all around the men, and Fortunato himself is dressed in costume. His deceptive appearance thus matches Fortunato"s deceptive inner soul, and it is at this point that Montresor begins to play upon Fortunato"s various weaknesses. The narrator"s ability to navigate the conversation in ways that foreshadow events to come furthers the suspense. As they pause for a moment, Montresor tells Fortunato,

You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed.

The narrator hinges his plot on the man"s pride, and it works. He uses verbal irony in telling him that he will be "missed." Fortunato, of course, believes that Montresor only means missed in that moment, yet the reader is increasingly aware that the real meaning is "missed for all time."

Setting, foreshadowing, characterization, verbal irony, and tone all work together to create a suspenseful story that ends with the death of Fortunato—and no feelings of regret for Montresor.

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Poe begins "The Cask of Amontillado" with Montresor, the narrator, speaking of his wish to avenge "the thousand injuries" he has suffered at the hands of Fortunato. From the start, we know that the narrator will try to achieve this revenge. However, we do not know how, which is how Poe first creates suspense in the story. Montresor also speaks of being avenged "with impunity"; the narrator does not intend to face any consequences, so we can guess that he will try to get rid of any evidence of his crime, maybe even any evidence of Fortunato himself, in order to escape retribution and punishment. Though the first paragraph is rather vague in describing Montresor"s plot, Poe creates an interest in the reader"s mind: we want to know what his plan is and whether he will be successful.

Once Montresor meets Fortunato at the carnival, Poe uses details and imagery that continue to amplify the suspense created by the story"s opening. The narrator begins to hint at Fortunato"s weakness: his (somewhat pretentious) love of wine. This is a clue as to how the narrator will exact his revenge. The two meet at the carnival and discuss a rare amontillado that Montresor wants his "friend" to taste. Thus, Montresor is able to lure Fortunato into his trap. The first bit of foreshadowing we get is that Fortunato has a bad cough, though he insists that it is nothing. Montresor tells him that the vaults where they will find the amontillado are damp and dangerous for someone with a bad cold. Fortunato, though, is so desperate to try the wine that he repeats that his cough is nothing. 

The other major example of imagery that creates suspense is the setting that the two characters enter on their way to the prized amontillado. They go down to the Montresors" vaults, and there are numerous descriptions of tombs and skeletons, hinting at Fortunato"s imminent death. While discussing how vast and full this family vault is, Montresor quotes the family motto, "Nemo me impune lacessit," which translates to "No one provokes me with impunity." This is particularly ominous as we know that Montresor is leading Fortunato to his death. Their walk through the vaults is suspenseful because of the setting and because of the building tension as they approach the scene of Fortunato"s demise: Montresor eventually walls him up in the vaults to die. 

Edgar Allan Poe creates suspense in "The Cask of Amontillado" through the physical journey taken by the central characters, his eerie symbolism, and his references to sickness. These elements work together to let the reader know that Fortunato will die before the story is over.

First, the journey that Fortunato and Montresor take is from the light and joy of a carnival through an underground tunnel that becomes darker, colder and more poisonous as they continue walking. Poe describes their descent into a "deep crypt, in which the foulness of the air caused our flambeaux rather to glow than flame," and talks about the nitre in the air around them as they go deeper underground and Fortunato comes closer to death. This slow, dangerous descent helps build suspense as the reader becomes increasingly aware of Fortunato"s murderous plan.

Similarly, Poe includes many symbols of death that become increasingly more macabre as the story continues. At the beginning of their journey together, Montresor draws a "mask of black silk" around him, as if he were on his way to a funeral. Next, Poe mentions the "damp ground of the catacombs," which are a more obvious symbol of death. Eventually, Poe launches into a vivid description of the piles of human remains which line the walls of the crypt into which they enter. At this point, the morbidity of the symbolism is clear, and this symbolism has helped to create suspense.

Finally, Poe also builds suspense through Montresor"s constant references to Fortunato"s sickness and impending death. At first, Montresor pretends to be concerned about Fortunato"s cold and cough. Fortunato"s response is that he "shall not die of a cough," an answer that seems trite but foreshadows a grim end. Finally, as the nitre begins to have a serious effect on Fortunato, Montresor talks freely about the way the "drops of moisture trickle among the bones." This disgusting response reminds us that they are entering a crypt whose air contains a dangerous chemical on their way to Fortunato"s murder.

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Because of Poe"s skill with words, he was able to create suspense through the construction of a physical journey, the use of macabre symbolism and several references to sickness and death. These elements help keep the reader frightened, intrigued and engaged as the story moves toward its horrible end.