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The passing of time only manage to improve the potency of Poe and Oates’ storytelling like vintage wine. In Poe we have a writer who was prolific in the 19th century and in Oates we have a master storyteller who gained recognition decades ago and yet the force of their prose remained the same as if they have published it last week. Reading these two short stories is like watching a suspense-thriller the only difference is that the characters came bursting forth not from a movie screen but from the pages of a book.
The readers feel empathy for the victims because the authors were able to describe the scene so perfectly well that they could also feel as claustrophobic as them. There is a similarity to the plot and at the same time there are major differences to the way the authors tried to tell the story of how a criminal mind can use words to control another person.
In The Cask of Amontillado the reader was introduced to Montressor, a man with a serious grudge against Fortunato. He was a brilliant strategist who carefully planned how he would exact vengeance on the person who insulted him. It was strange because Fortunato consider him a friend.
He had no idea that he had besmirched Montressor’s reputation or if he had cheated him in any manner or even if he had said something that has caused him shame. But apparently Montressor viewed Fortunato’s actions in the past to be worthy of death and murder was his intent.
Montressor was no ordinary killer, he was a calculating murderer for he studied his would-be victim, Fortunato. He was an excellent judge of character for he knew Fortunato’s weakness and he built a plan around the idea that his ego regarding his skills as a wine connoisseur will make it impossible for him to resist going into the catacombs and there meet his untimely death. This is similar to what Alan Friend tried to do to Connie.
Alan Friend just like Montressor did not spring the trap without first an elaborate preparation. Alan Friend did not only study Connie, he used surveillance tactics as he observed her every time she would go out at night with her friends. It was the perfect time to observe girls like Connie because it was summertime and she and her girlfriends had ample time to waste going to the malls and hanging out in restaurants where an observer can easily disappear from the crowds.
But his surveillance did not only end in the said nighttime prowl, Alan Friend would even go to the trouble of finding out the behavior of Connie’s family and he discovered that every Sunday they would go to another house to enjoy the weekend and leave Connie behind.
Montressor and Alan Friend used words like a gunslinger would expertly handle a gun. They were ahead of their victims; they knew what they would think and how they would react when a phrase was spoken.
In the case of Montressor he would utter the name of a rival to challenge Fortunato and make him feel that it is his duty to go down the catacombs and endure the ghastly sight of skeletons just to determine if the Amontillado sitting down below is real or not. In the case of Alan Friend he used words to paint a world that is both isolated and fragile, eliciting the feeling of helplessness on the part of Connie.
In Amontillado the attack was motivated by the need for revenge because Montressor believed that he had to deal with the insult heaped upon him by Fortunato. In Where are You Going, Where have you been?, the attack was motivated by lust and the need to control helpless women.
Furthermore, the traps that they laid were effective but due to different reasons. In the case of Montressor he was able to bring Fortunato to a vulnerable state by playing upon his ego and his penchant for wine. Fortunato was drunk and careless when he descended the steps towards the catacombs. Connie was bright and knew something was wrong but Alan Friend knew her weakness, she was alienated from her family because she finds them boring.
Another difference is the final resting place, assuming of course that Connie was dead after Alan Friend was finished with her. In Amontillado, Fortunato started the journey with Montressor in a wide open space, near the celebration, near the crowds of people and he ended the night alone buriend in the catacombs.
In Oates’ story Connie started her interaction with Alan Friend feeling claustrophobic inside a house. But at the end she died outside the cramped place of the house and traveled in a car to the countryside where there were plenty of wide open spaces. The similarities and differences enable the reader to appreciate how the authors tried to tell how a criminal mind would try to discover a weakness in the victim and exploit it.
There were similarities and differences in the short stories. The similar use of cunning and smooth-talking murderers is a good way to appreciate the story and at the same time understand why it was so effective. The concept of claustrophobia was used in both stories and this gave the feeling of suspense and this was deliberately used by the authors to create a feeling as if the reader was inside the catacombs or trap in a small house in a small town.
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The differences on the other hand helps in distinguishing the way the authors tried to justify the reason why Fortunato and Connie were killed. Fortunato died because he was no sensitive enough to know that Montressor was angry and Connie died because she ignored her family.
McMaham, Elizabeth & Susan Day. Literature and the Writing process. 9th Ed. Canada: Pearson Education, 2010.