Literary Commonalities and Differences in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” used to express similar theme

            Throughout the history of great literature, talented authors have always strived to include literary devices into their masterpieces in order to enhance their prose. Though their lifespans differed by approximately a century, the works of Shirley Jackson and Edgar Allan Poe share many literary similarities. Specifically, both authors masterfully employed the literary devices of foreshadowing and symbolism but differed in their use of point of view to convey a similar gruesome theme in their short stories, “The Lottery” and “The Cask of Amontillado” respectively:  foes may take the form of an unexpected face. Beware!

            Many authors use foreshadowing to clue in the reader to possible future events within their works. In “The Cask of Amontillado” Poe foreshadows Fortunato’s death at the hands of his own friend Montressor. For example, Fortunato claims, “I shall not die of a cough.” (Poe 327) This statement shows that Fortunato is unaware that his friend will soon become his murderer. Similarly, Jackson uses the image of the children gathering stones to hint at the coming event and their role in “The Lottery.” She writes, “Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix…eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square.” (Jackon 416) Additionally, Jackson uses her own characters’ surnames for the purpose of foreshadowing the stoning. Bloom notes, “Graves sound a somber, forewarning note of what will happen to Tessie.” (Bloom 41) Meanwhile, Poe’s protagonist Montressor hints at what he has in store for Fortunato. He remarks, “You are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed.” (Poe 327) So, while the reader may be clued in to the coming horrors by the use of foreshadowing, the victims remain oblivious of their impending doom. Surely, these authors had dark endings for their stories in mind from the start to have placed such clues in their writings.

Just as the authors masterfully use foreshadowing, they also place many symbols into their works in order to cement their theme of the unidentified assailant. In “The Lottery” Jackson presents the black box to the reader. Perhaps it symbolizes the unknown nature of the aggressors. Schaub theorizes, “Like Pandora’s Box and its unexpected, excessive and destructive gifts, the wooden box is associated with the vegetal cycle, with death followed by rebirth.” (Schaub 3) In “The Cask of Amontillado” it is the name of a wine and not the color of a box which serves as a clue to the audience. Monstressor says, “I broke and reached him a flagon of De Grave. He emptied it at a breath.” (Poe 328) This suggests that Fortunato has unknowingly imbibed his own death or grave, as the wine is called De Grave, from the very hand of his friend. Speaking of hands:  it can certainly be speculated that Tessie Hutchinson did not expect to be pelted with stones by the hands of her youngest son. And yet, Jackson assures us of the child’s actions by writing, “someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles.” (Jackon 421) The unfortunate Fortunato’s costume of a jester suggests that he is the fool of the tale unaware that he is being lured to his death by someone he calls friend. Poe describes the comical outfit, “The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells.” (Poe 326) In fact, the persistent ringing of those same bells throughout Poe’s story could be a reminder to the reader of how Fortunato is continually tricked by his supposed ally, Montressor. Without question, these writers took great care in inserting symbolic clues into their stories to support their theme of concealing the killer’s identity from the victim until it was too late.

The authors do, however, differ in their choice of narrator. Poe uses an unreliable first person speaker, Montressor who never gives the reader nor Fortunato an explicit reason for the murder. He only affirms, “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.” (Poe 325) Baraban suggests, “The conflict between the two characters arises from the sensation of incongruity between their current social standing and their right to prominence by virtue of their origin.” (Baraban 3) As familial honor was more important in Poe’s day, perhaps, the short story is a way for the author to confess some regret as he was never able to make a sufficient living or graduate from a higher learning institution as was Poe’s foster father’s wishes. (Museum) The use of the first person speaker allows the reader to put themselves into Montressor’s place as he carries out Fortunato’s murder. This gives the audience some insight into how murderers think and feel. This offers a sort of opposite point of view from being the unwitting victim.

Dissimilarly, Jackson offers an objective third person narrator in “The Lottery.” With this type of narrator, the audience is presented with an unbiased and, perhaps even detached, telling of the story. In this way, the characters could be anyone, at anywhere in any time period. Consequently, this also supports the theme of the hidden identity of the killer. Though this type of narrator could have been used as a device to distract the reader from the gruesome ending in store. Danielle Schaub assures, “Clearly the pastoral setting, commonplace characterization, familiar down-to-earth vocabulary, impersonal and unimaginative style, detached point of view and plain chronological structure, all contribute to mislead the reader.” (Schaub 2) Though Jackson uses an objective, third person narrator in her story, an explicit reason for the lottery is unknown. Bloom speculates that, “Old Man Warner warns us about the primordial function of the lottery, which is to ensure fertility.” (Bloom 41) Others suggest it is a way to control the population growth. Either way, it can be agreed upon that this omission adds to the mystery of whom will end up becoming the victim and the aggressor. Though the two talented writers choose different types of narrators, their story tellers only helped to support the same theme: foes may take the form of an unexpected face. Though there are many more literary similarities and differences between Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” we have but explored a few here. They used foreshadowing to subtly warn the reader of coming grisly and horrific events. Their careful insertion of literary symbols into their work, too, hinted at what ghastly deaths awaited their victims, the tardy Mrs. Tessie Hutchinson and the comically-dressed Fortunato, respectively. And though they diverged in their choice of narrator: unreliable first person speaker for Poe’s tale and objective third person for Jackson’s story; both authors expertly used all these literary devices to support their similar theme: Beware! Foes may take the form an unexpected face. Fortunato meets his death at the hands of a friend, and Tessie watches in horror as her own community, family, and even her youngest son, Davey Hutchinson stone her to death. In conclusion, it is worth mentioning that though she did not receive it for “The Lottery,” Jackson was honored as a recipient of the Edgar Allan Poe award. This prestigious and coveted honor is bestowed upon deserving mystery writers yearly. So, although they were not contemporaries, one can speculate that Mr. Edgar Allan Poe and Mrs. Shirley Jackson would have enjoyed lively literary discussions had their lives not been separated by an entire century. One thing, though, we can say for certain, the masterful authors Poe and Jackson had abundant talent in horrifying their respective audiences and will continue to do so for some time to come.

Works Cited

Baraban, Elena V. “The Motive for Murder in “The Cask of Amontillado.” Detroit: Rocky Mountain Review 58.2, 2004. Critical essay.

Bloom, Harold. Bloom’s Major Short Story Writers. Broomall: Chelsea House Publishers, 2001. Book.

Jackon, Shirley. “The Lottery.” 1948. Short Story.

Museum, The Edgar Allan Poe. 1922. museum biography. 24 September 2014.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Cask of Amontillado.” November 1846. Short Story in a periodical.

Schaub, Danielle. “Shirley Jackson’s Use of Symbols in “The Lottery”.” Journal of the Short Story in English (1990): 79-86. Critical essay.

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