Analysis of “amontillado”
Stumbling upon the fourth password in the book, the first thing I notice is that it is another Poe reference. This password is referencing the piece titled “Cask of Amontillado”, a short (6 page) story of a murderer who was never caught and a victim who was never found. To understand exactly how this relates to our characters in Skeleton Creek we must go back to the original, or in my case, The Complete Stories by E.A. Poe.
In the “Cask of Amontillado” we have two main characters, Montresor who is also the narrator and the man he takes his revenge upon, Fortunato. The story takes place during the Carnival, a time of extravagant celebration and gaiety. Most of the town is inebriated as is Fortunato, heavily intoxicated and stumbling about in the streets. Montresor lures the drunk Fortunato into a false sense of purpose by telling him that he recently came into possession of a cask (not quite 500 liters) of Amontillado, an exceptional sherry-like dessert wine. Montresor tells Fortunato that he needs his help determining the quality of the wine in order to be positive he wasn’t cheated in his purchase. Fortunato agrees to help, and is led down a dark, damp path into the wine cellar of Montresor.
Fortunato must realize that he is in danger and that Montresor has ulterior motives for the trip to the cellar, but he is far too drunk to be of any resistance. Montresor leads him into a niche in the cellar wall and after chaining him, proceeds to build a wall closing off the niche completely. Montresor finishes the wall and ends the story by professing that 50 years has passed and [he] the murderer was never caught and Fortunato, his victim, was never found; a confession to the perfect crime.
Obviously there is more to the story, but for a short synopsis, that will do just fine. There is no use dawdling about, so we might as well jump right in: why this story, and why now? I believe the placement of this literary reference and the intricacies within “Cask of Amontillado” demands a specific and unique interpretation of our characters within Skeleton Creek. I have little doubt that within the story of Skeleton Creek, Henry is playing the part of Montresor. Using Montresor as a piece of colored crepe paper held up to a light bulb, we can see different shades to Henry. He is a madman, driven by one thing that we do not fully understand, just as we were never to understand why Montresor was obsessed with seeking his revenge.
One of the things that I picked up on was Poe’s use of the word “impunity” twice, which is only strange because the story is so short. Repetition of such a unique word stands out. In the first paragraph while describing his vengeance, Montresor says, “I must not only punish, but punish with impunity.” Then, again while dictating his family motto, “Nemo me impune lacessit,” which translates to “no one attacks me with impunity.” We get the feeling that Henry’s character also shares this feeling of impunity to do whatever he wishes, without regard to the consequences, without a care for the lives that he effects. He is obsessed with only one thing, and to get in his way would only cause a person pain and misery.
I also found the reference to the Masons to be very interesting and worth consideration. The Masons are a secret brotherhood, known throughout history for being of considerable sway and power, a club that Montresor was not a part of. This seems to me to be transparent commentary on the situation between Henry and the Crossbones, a tight knit group bonded by a single goal that Henry did not belong to, but had no qualms destroying.
There were a few other similarities between the two stories, some small, like the idea of this secret niche within the wine cellar where a crime is committed and hidden away for 50 years. I couldn’t help but think of the secret room within the dredge that went on being a secret for so long, not plastered up with brick and mortar to encase a body, but boarded up with wood and nails to encase a fortune. Both provide motive enough for killing, though in the end, only one is discovered. In Poe’s version, we never learn about Montresor’s cellar being uncovered by a 15-year-old girl with a video camera and her journal-clutching best friend. Perhaps that would have lead astray from the macabre theme of the story.
I prefer to think of this entire discovery process an organic progression; we have something that remains hidden in plain sight, which only needs to be looked at under a magnifying glass in order to appreciate its importance to the story as a whole. What we have here is a literary ecosystem. It takes more than one element to grow a plant, just as it takes more than one idea to create a story. You must look into these passwords, not beyond them, in order to fully discover what is hiding within the cellars and dungeons of this story. James Joyce once said, “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.” Perhaps Patrick Carman took a page out of Joyce’s book and has created a bit of his own immortality within the depths of Skeleton Creek.