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Points of View in The Cask of Amontillado and Barn Burning
Montresor, the narrator and main character in Edgar Allan Poe s The Cask of Amontillado, tells the story using the first-person point of view. Consistent in voice, Montresor uses a sadistic and manipulative tone that creates dramatic irony. He is an unreliable narrator because his story tries to justify his crime. Barn Burning, by William Faulkner, is narrated from a third-person point of view by a limited-omniscient narrator. The action and the characters of the story are presented through a narration interspersed with dialogue. The main character s thoughts appear in italicized passages. Both dialogues and italicized passages help the reader to understand the character s inner conflict and dynamic traits.
At the beginning of the story The Cask of Amontillado, Montresor expresses his intolerance toward an insult. His words to the reader foreshadow an imminent punishment to the aggressor: You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat (Poe 209). Throughout the whole story, Montresor uses a first-person point of view to narrate his encounter with his future victim, Fortunato, the man who supposedly provoked his need for revenge. Montresor takes advantage of Fortunato s weaknesses; his friend is a drunkard and a gullible person. Fortunato prides himself on his knowledge of wines. Montresor pretends to have a barrel
of Amontillado (wine) and tries to persuade Fortunato to taste it. He also explains to Fortunato the danger involved in entering his vaults, where he keeps the Amontillado. The vaults are encrusted with nitre and Fortunato s health may suffer from it, but pride takes a more important role than precaution and he agrees to follow Montressor.
Montresor leads the way inside the extensive vaults. His manipulation turns now towards Fortunato. Fortunato starts coughing and Montresor pretends to care about his companion s health. On the other hand, Montresor keeps offering wine to Fortunato in order to keep him away from common sense and stick to his evil plan. By now, the reader perceives the dramatic irony of the situation. Montresor is determined to murder Fortunato and he feels no remorse about it. The irony increases while Montresor and Fortunato walk through the vault. Bones of dead people appear along the way and neither of them worries about the outcome, which the reader might already guess. At the end, Montresor s sadistic behavior and lack of remorse are completely exposed. Provoked by an alleged insult and driven by revenge, the narrator buries his antagonist alive. Fifty years later, Montresor is not tormented for what he did.
Told by a third-person limited-omniscient narrator, Barn Burning presents Sarty s (the main character) inner conflict and his reaction to it. The narrator witnesses the events, just like the reader does, and Sarty s thoughts are presented in italicized passages. Sarty starts out as an obedient son. Abner, his father, is a violent man with a tough character. Filed with anger and frustration, Abner is very predictable. A static character at the beginning of the story, Abner is accused of setting a barn on fire and Sarty is asked on the matter. After all, nobody questions him, but the narrator allows the
reader to know what Sarty thinks about his father: He aims for me to lie, and I will have to do hit (Faulkner 217). The case is closed and the court asks Abner to leave the town. He leaves and takes his family along: the boy s mother, the aunt, two sisters, and a brother. Abner submits Sarty under his command and the boy obeys.
The narrator keeps revealing passages containing Abner s anger and frustration towards the situation. Disturbed, Sarty witnesses his father s behavior. His mother also knows how violent Abner can become and tries to stop him by calling his name in a worried voice. In other occasions, she adds a few useless no s: Abner! No! No! Oh God. Abner! (Faulkner 227). Meanwhile, the boy s attitude towards his father changes. Sarty manages to deal with his father s behavior until he actually sees him preparing to set another barn on fire. The narrator describes Abner as dressed for a ceremonial violence. In fact, Abner asks for his son s contribution this time. Sarty needs to get the oil in order to start the fire. While he runs for the oil, his thoughts reveal a change in him: I could keep on, I could run on and on and never look back, never need to see his face again (Faulkner 227). Furious, Sarty rebels against his father. Abner asks the mother to hold him while he accomplishes the task, but shortly, Sarty frees himself and rushes to tell the owners of the barn about his father s intention. The narrator mentions the sound of two shots. Father. My father. He was brave (Faulkner 229). Sarty will never be the same. He sleeps through the night at the crest of a hill. Sarty stands up and keeps walking. He does not look back.
An unreliable first-person narrator tells The Cask of Amontillado. Montresor s lack of remorse and his cold-bloodied determination to murder Fortunato creates
dramatic irony. He is not aware of the seriousness of his crime. Throughout a consistent voice, his manipulative and sadistic behavior tries to justify a crime, which makes the narration believable, but unreliable. On the other hand, Barn Burning is narrated from a third-person point of view. Sarty is capable of telling the events he perceives, while the narrator presents Sarty s thoughts and reveals them in italicized passages. The young boy struggles against his father s authority and finally changes into an independent individual. The narrator, limited-omniscient, is accurate and allows the reader to interpret the story objectively.
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