Writing that Moves: Amontillado, Part 2

This continues my look at the technique used in Poe’s story. I’m doing these not so much to critique the story but to test and build up a vocabulary to help myself and others read with attention at the level of craft, so that we can recognize these tricks to steal for our own writing.

He had a weak point—this Fortunato—although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine. Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit. For the most part their enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and opportunity—to practise imposture upon the British and Austrian millionaires. In painting and gemmary, Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack—but in the matter of old wines he was sincere. In this respect I did not differ from him materially: I was skillful in the Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.

General Notes:

Here the narrator sets up the game. First, we have the pronoun with the subject in apposition, emphasized with dashes. Poe is leaning on the name here. We can’t miss how appropriate it is. Next, the narrator’s generalization about the Italians reveals that he’s arrogant, but one thing he doesn’t underestimate is Fortunato’s knowledge of wine. This is a very subtle version of the trick Lucius taught, about trying to get your reader to subconsciously contradict the narrator, which raises our critical awareness of the narrator as a person while it lowers our critical attitude toward the larger story. The narrator speaks with authority about the Italians, but in a fatuous way so that we question his judgment, but then he is generous and claims that Fortunato knows his stuff about wine, giving the impression of a narrator who has overcome his prejudice to make a concession. Fighting prejudice is hard, especially toward someone we hate, like the narrator clearly hates Fortunato, so we’re inclined to think that what he says about Fortunato is true. Meanwhile, the narrator has further revealed himself to be a petty, scheming man. The last sentence is important to building up the narrator’s claim to know that Fortunato is a wine expert, but it’s also a boast. The phrase “in this I did not differ from him materially” is figurative, but it implies that in a more literal way, he otherwise did differ from him, that the narrator is not as wealthy as Fortunato, and in context, this clearly galls him.

The narrator has said a lot more about himself here than he has about his subject! It’s an expert use of the mirror trick.

Technique notes:

Getting us to engage the narrator by contradicting him
Describing a viewpoint character by his attitude toward another character

About robertpkruger

Writer, editor, and software developer. Former president of ElectricStory.com.
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