“Contrast of ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ and ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ with Emphasis on Deranged Characters”

One topic that has often intrigued writers is the insane mind. Most find it a challenge to try to correctly portray the thoughts and actions of a mad person. Two works with very accurate and vivid descriptions of such people are Wallace Stevens’ “Porphyria’s Lover” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado.” In both of these works, the insane person kills another person. However, the works differ greatly in their portrayal of the insane mind. The areas in which these two stories differ the most are the murderer’s reasoning, the murderer’s spontaneity, and the nature of the murderer’s mind.

Stevens and Poe both choose to have the insane person murder someone in their stories. This is, perhaps, because murder is something not usually associated as an action performed by normal people. However, the reasons for the murders are different in each story. The insane person in Poe’s story, Montressor, kills a friend of his. He does so for revenge, saying “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could” (p. 209). On the other hand, the murderer in Steven’s story kills his wife because he wants to freeze the moment in time. He wants to make sure that she loves him forever. “While I debated what to do. / That moment she was mine, mine, fair, / Perfectly pure and good” (ln 35-37).

Another difference in the portrayal of the insane mind by Stevens and Poe is the spontaneity of the actions. In Poe’s story, Montressor plans out his actions for some length of time. He thinks about what he will do to redress the situation. “At length I would be avenged;” (pg. 209). On the other hand, the murderer in Steven’s story acts on the spur of the moment. He sees his love and then begins to fear that she might not be his forever. This worries him and he decides to do the only thing he knows of to keep her forever, kill her.

Another difference between Poe’s insane character and Steven’s is the nature of their mind. This can be inferred from their reactions after they each commit a murder. As Montressor seals Fortunato up in the wall, he seems to almost regret his actions. He first calls out to Fortunato frantically. Then, after hearing no reply, he begins to finish his work and says, “My heart grew sick” (pg. 214). Also, after completing the task he states, “In pace requiescat” (pg. 214), which is Latin for “May he rest in peace.” He seems to at least pity Fortunato for the fate that he has bestowed upon him. On the contrary, the insane individual in Steven’s poem seems to feel no remorse or guilt. After committing the murder, he continues to sit there and even places the dead body’s head on his shoulder. Also, after remaining that way all night he says, “And all night long we have not stirred, / And yet God has not said a word!” (ln 59-60). This is a triumphant remark in which he indicates that even God is not against what he did.

The insane mind can be pictured in many different ways based on how a person views others. It is apparent that Poe felt that someone insane was not necessarily entirely evil as he did have the character exhibit some signs of remorse and guilt. Montressor betrayed Fortunato only because he felt that he had been wronged. He was not right in killing him, but he felt justified. Steven’s insane character, on the other hand, did not feel entirely justified in his actions. His statement “No pain felt she; / I am quite sure she felt no pain.” (ln 41-42) indicates to the reader that he is not completely positive about the action that he just performed. Overall, Poe’s story seems to be one meant mainly for entertainment purposes. Steven’s, however, seems to attempt to point out some of the very dark sides of the strongest human emotion, love.
Works Cited
Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell, eds. 3rd ed.
New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1997.