RARA-AVIS: morality & the unreliable narrator

From: Frederick Zackel ( fzackel@wcnet.org)
Date: 24 Feb 2007

A line in yesterday's discussion caught me:

"I felt guilty for sympathizing with someone who did things that were immoral."

When I teach Intro / Lit. I always include Poe's "Cask of Amontillado," then giving them the following assignment --

"The Cask" is a classic revenge story. Are all monster stories about revenge? Are all revenge stories about monsters? Are you claustrophobic? Is the fear of being buried alive universal? The crime novelist Elmore Leonard says that plot is a promise that something will happen. Your instructor suggests that plot works like a man falling down a flight of stairs. Does this story work in those ways? Is the outcome of the story ever in doubt? If true, why do we keep reading? Can "irony" be defined as "intellectual sarcasm"?

Based on your answers to the above questions, answer the following questions to the best of your ability: What exactly did Fortunado do to deserve such a fate? What exactly is his "real crime?" How should the average reader react to that last paragraph? Who is the narrator talking to? What do you think is an unreliable narrator? How does the Poe story use this literary technique? What does using it mean to you?

And 90% of the students don't get it: because he is the only narrator, they sympathize with Montressor. Fortunado MUST HAVE REALLY DESERVED TO BE WALLED UP, else why would anybody wall the guy up?

I collect their papers, then howl, "I want you on my jury!!! You just sided with a psychopath."

At which point, each one gets an epiphany. Oops.

My two cents.

Fred Zackel Cocaine & Blue Eyes Point Blank Press

The Latin phrase "alius ibi," means "elsewhere," as in the English word
"alibi." The Latin word "alius" itself means "at another time," as in the English word "alias."

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 24 Feb 2007 EST