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Figurative Language in The Cask of Amontillado

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  • 0:00 Figurative Language
  • 1:03 Why Use Figurative Language?
  • 1:42 Thousands of Injuries:…
  • 2:44 Intoxication: A Metaphor
  • 3:29 Nitre and Dripping…
  • 4:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Melissa Rohen

Melissa has taught college English and has a master's degree in English and Composition.

In this lesson we will explore the use of figurative language in Edgar Allen Poe's short story 'The Cask of Amontillado.' We will also discuss figurative language itself, using quotations from the story as examples.

Figurative Language

You've probably heard the word 'literal' before; as in, 'I literally laughed out loud.' When we use words according to their precise meanings, we're using literal language. If you say 'I literally laughed out loud,' you mean that you actually let out an audible chuckle. By contrast, we have figurative language. Figurative language is when we use words or phrases in a way that goes beyond their literal meaning, using comparisons to create images and evoke specific feelings or responses.

Let's look at a common example, the phrase: 'I let the cat out of the bag.' If we interpret this literally, then the author is talking about freeing a small, furry, feline mammal from a bag of some kind. However, as an example of figurative language, the expression refers to telling a secret that should have been withheld. The cat, in this expression, stands in for the secret. Many types of figurative language are at an author's disposal. We'll be looking at three specific kinds: hyperbole, metaphor, and simile.

Why Use Figurative Language?

Authors use figurative language to create a picture, or an atmosphere, for their readers. The word choices help the readers engage, visualize, and understand what the author is trying to say or describe. Think about our 'cat out of the bag' example. The literal statement 'I told a secret' may be effective, but 'I let the cat out of the bag' is more interesting, more engaging, and more entertaining for the reader. This is especially true of Edgar Allen Poe, who was especially fond of using figurative language. He was able to give his readers a highly visceral experience by bringing his story to life visually.

Figurative Language in 'The Cask of Amontillado'

Let's look at some specific quotes in the story, which are excellent examples of figurative language.

Thousands of Injuries: A Hyperbole

The story begins with this melodramatic statement: 'The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.'

What's going on in this sentence? The narrator, Montresor, is referring to offenses suffered at the hands of a man named Fortunato. Now, if we were to take his words literally, then we would have to imagine that the narrator is in pretty rough shape in the wake of these many, many injuries inflicted by Fortunato. But Poe wrote this piece using figurative language, so Fortunato did not literally injure Montresor thousands of times. Those injuries are, in fact, less severe than an insult, as Montresor says at the end of this quote. This example of figurative language is known as hyperbole, or an exaggerated statement.

Why did Poe choose to use it here? Because, isn't it a bit more powerful, more dramatic, to refer to 'the thousand injuries' instead of just saying, 'This Fortunato guy hurt my feelings?' The figurative language engages the reader and helps us understand the depth of Montresor's anger.

Intoxication: A Metaphor

For much of the story, Fortunato is highly intoxicated from the wine offered to him by the narrator. At one point, Montresor observes, 'He turned towards me, and looked into my eyes with two filmy orbs that distilled the rheum of intoxication.'

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