This continues my look at the technique used in Poe’s story. Since this is a longer excerpt, I’m placing it below.
The narrator recounts how he found and began to deceive Fortunato during a carnival. The narrator does not say, “I pretended to be pleased to see him”; no, he simply states, “I was pleased to see him.” The effect is a little unnerving. Are we to take this figuratively, with the “pretended” implied; or is the narrator happy to see him because he’s happy to get on with his revenge?
Or, more chillingly, does he simply mean what he says, that he was pleased to see him, that he doesn’t have to feign excitement and affection? Perhaps it’s simply that his hate coexists with those feelings, and is the stronger.
Whatever the case, we’re engaged and want to find out more.
Fortunato is dressed as a clown, which both underscores his drunkenness and foreshadows his role as an unwitting buffoon. He does seem to have the focus of a drunk man: he keeps blurting out “Amontillado!,” making it clear that he’s become ingenuous, and that the narrator has his hook in him. The narrator plays on Fortunato’s vanity by praising him and then insisting that he’s looking for another connoisseur, Luchesi, whom Fortunato doesn’t respect. Again, Fortunato gives a clear signal that he’s been taken in, by carelessly stating his opinion of Luchesi’s judgment.
The narrator has set his trap during a carnival for two obvious reasons: first, to catch Fortunato drunk and in a party mood and likely to come along impetuously, so that no one will know where he’s going. And, second, he gets to draw him off while wearing a mask, so that even if he’s noticed, he won’t be recognized.
Mostly there are general principles to be observed here: everything has more than one function. The carnival is the perfect venue for isolating Fortunato and ensuring that he’ll be all the more interested in drinking.
However, there are a couple of general techniques here.
Fortunato’s costume establishes character through physiognomy. This is a common technique, though it’s considered by good critics and writers to be usually a hamfisted and cheap one. However, here, it’s not employed so much to suggest Fortunato’s character, though it does do that, but to emphasize the role he’s cast in, not just by the narrator but by fate. Luck itself has abandoned Fortunato; the coincidence of his wearing motley is particularly unfortunate for him. Like the name Fortunato, the costume fits, so to speak. Like everything an author chooses to relate, clothing should have a function and, preferably, as here, more than one.
Not explicitly saying that a viewpoint character’s emotion is feigned when context suggests it is puts the reader in the role of the person being deceived and creates tension, at least the tension of wanting to know what the truth will turn out to be. To keep your reader reading, keep them engaged with the work: keep them guessing.
The dialog here is full of dramatic irony. We know what’s going on. Fortunato does not. And that layer of subtext makes the dialog feel real and deep.
The simple expedient of having Fortunato repeatedly shout “Amontillado!” conjures both his drunkenness and a noisy place. It fills in for what we’re not seeing: the jugglers and other partygoers and whatnot. As I explained in my earlier essay “Now You See It… Now You Don’t,” this kind of thing helps give you the impression of having seen.
It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season, that I encountered my friend. He accosted me with excessive warmth, for he had been drinking much. The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells. I was so pleased to see him, that I thought I should never have done wringing his hand.
I said to him—"My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking to-day! But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts."
"How?" said he. "Amontillado? A pipe? Impossible! And in the middle of the carnival!"
"I have my doubts," I replied; "and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter. You were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain."
"I have my doubts."
"And I must satisfy them."
"As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchesi. If any one has a critical turn, it is he. He will tell me—"
"Luchesi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry."
"And yet some fools will have it that his taste is a match for your own."
"Come, let us go."
"To your vaults."
"My friend, no; I will not impose upon your good nature. I perceive you have an engagement. Luchesi—"
"I have no engagement;—come."
"My friend, no. It is not the engagement, but the severe cold with which I perceive you are afflicted. The vaults are insufferably damp. They are encrusted with nitre."
"Let us go, nevertheless. The cold is merely nothing. Amontillado! You have been imposed upon. And as for Luchesi, he cannot distinguish Sherry from Amontillado."
Thus speaking, Fortunato possessed himself of my arm. Putting on a mask of black silk, and drawing a roquelaire closely about my person, I suffered him to hurry me to my palazzo.