Irony in Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”

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Edgar Allan Poe’s stories uses clear symbolism with muted irony.   Poe uses irony in his stories to increase tension, enhance the horror, or communicate a theme or message.

In the pages of Poe’s books abound numerous examples of these irony.  The symbolism combined with iron made Poe’s story a more interesting read.  The absence of these two elements would not have made his stories as effective as they are.

Take for instance, “The Cask of Amontillado”.  The irony in the story exists in both dramatic and verbal. Both are essential to the story.  Dramatic irony pertains to the part that the reader is aware of something that the character knows nothing of.  Dramatic irony is evident when the reader knows that a dreaded fate awaits Fortunato as he descends the catacombs to pursue Amontillado.  

Verbal irony is when a character says something but means another.  Verbal irony is exemplified by Montresor expresses concern about Fortunato’s health. He even tries to persuade Fortunato to turn back because the dampness of the catacombs might worsen his cough. To which, Fortunato assures, “I will not die of a cough.” Montresor says, “True–true….”

Verbal irony is also evident when Montresor wishes Fortunato long life in a toast. Then he says that he is a mason, but not the same way Fortunato defines it. “In pace requiescat!” (“Rest in peace!”) completes the verbal irony of the story. “In pace” could also mean a very secure monastic prison

“The Tell-tale Heart” another tale by Poe is also full of irony.   The narrator keeps insisting that he is sane. : “You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded . . .” (Poe 121).  The reader though has a gnawing feeling that the opposite is true. The irony heightens the feeling of hysteria in the story. Towards the end of the story the madman confessed to the crime he committed because his conscience would not leave him alone. This is another irony that thickens the plot of the story.  A madman who is not supposed to be concern with reason is bothered by justice.

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief–oh, no!–it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night . . . the terrors distracted me. (Poe 122)

The madman here empathizes with the old man while he hatches a plan to kill him which is the greatest irony of all.


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