Poe's use of irony

greenspun.com : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

In which of Poe's short stories does he exhibit irony the most? How so? And where can i find web sites on his use of irony?

-- Anonymous, March 25, 2000



One of the principal reasons I enjoy participation on this forum is to share what I have come to appreciate most about our dear Mr. Poe over the last 40 years. Another is to provoke some notice and, hopefully, fascination in the young for the brilliant talents of Mr. Poe, his literary ideals, and his varied works. In my youth, I had learned to recite, verbatim and upon request, several of his more popular poems and at one point had memorized entirely, the text of the Imp of the Perverse. Today, well.. hold on a minute while I check to see if I tied my shoes this morning! : )

Seriously, perhaps one of the best examples of Edgars use of irony can be found in his short-story The Cask of Amontillado. It is a tale of vengeance, planned and executed by Montresor, the narrator, upon Fortunato, a pompous and arrogant acquaintance that had committed an unpardonable breach of social decorum by insulting Montresor. I use this story as an example because it is one of my favorites and, quite frankly, my age does offer some deterrence for exceptional recall and this one just happened to jump to mind. I cant say whether this tale uses irony the most, but from my perspective, it flows like fine Amontillado wine from beginning to end.

Be aware, however, that irony, much like beauty, is defined solely by the observer. What I may determine to be an event or circumstance fully congruent with stated intent; you may well find it to be at odds. At times, recognizing irony is not dissimilar to capturing a small glob of mercury between your fingers to return it to its container. Youll find a spoon much more practical and a small bowl both practical and reliable. It is not enough to read the story, the purpose must be understood but your understanding is heavily dependent upon your imagination. Especially in this tale. Kind of ironic, huh!

Perhaps the element of the story that most clearly suggests dramatic irony is that throughout the story, Montresor employs Fortunatos own arrogance and vanity to trap and destroy him. Repeatedly, time and again, Montresor insists that Fortunato leave the dark and damp catacombs of the Montresor estate because of the threat to his health and return to the carnival. Fortunato will have none of it and insists on proceeding so that he can render his expert opinion on Montresors purchase of Amontillado wine. We, the reader, are fully aware of Montresors intent to murder Fortunato, yet Fortunato is oblivious to the plan. Even as he is shackled in the recess of the catacombs, he finds reality difficult to accept, even as he slowly sobers and watches Montresor mortar stone upon row of stone to wall up Fortunato for eternity. An example of his use of verbal irony is the name of the victim himself. It appears Mr. Poe had a terrific sense of humor as well dont you think!

If you havent read the story, please do. It is well worth your time. You may also wish to visit the Poe Decoder website at http://www.poedecoder.com . It has several excellent critiques and summaries available. Good luck.

-- Anonymous, March 27, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ