My students and I are stumped by this. Why did Poe allude to the Freemasons in the short story, "The Cask of Amontillado?"
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Fortunato's mention of the Freemasons is my favorite pun from the Edgar Allan Poe short story, "The Cask of Amontillado." When Fortunato and Montressor make their way through the catacombs, Fortunato empties "a flagon of DeGrave," throws the bottle "upwards with a gesticulation I did not understand." Fortunato
... repeated the movement--a grotesque one.
"You do not comprehend?" he said.
"Not I," I replied.
"Then you are not of the brotherhood."
"You are not of the masons."
"Yes, yes," I said; "yes, yes."
"You? Impossible! A mason?"
"A mason," I replied.
"A sign," he said, "a sign."
"It is this," I answered, producing from beneath the folds of my roquelaire a trowel.
"You jest," he exclaimed, recoiling a few paces. "But let us proceed to the Amontillado."
Fortunato flashes a secret sign that only a member of the mysterious brotherhood of Freemasons can recognize. When he asks Montressor if he is of the brotherhood, Montressor coyly responds in the affirmative with a sign of his own, producing a trowel--a masonry tool--from his cloak. He is not a Freemason, but he is about to practice some amateur masonry with the trowel and hidden mortar within the catacombs--creating a wall that will hide his unfortunate friend forever. Flashing the trowel is Montressor's idea of a joke, and not the last one that he will play on Fortunato this day.
Poe loved screts, puzzles and double-meanings. In this, the pun between "mason," (lower cases) meaning a person who works with brick and mortar, and Mason (upper case) the organization supposed to have originally arisen from the occupation. The trowel then, also, has a double-meaning. When Fortunato asks for a sign, that is a secret hand gesture known only to Masons, Montresor shows his sign- the trowel, the physical symbol of the trade. Fortunato is perplexed, but in his drunken state, doesn't explore further. We, the readers, have surmised what Montresor is up to, and we get a shudder of dread (or a little chuckle) over Poe's "joke." Oneo f many examples of irony in the story. Poe also likely includes this for the same reason we see the Masons in movies today- little is know about Freemasonry outside the members and we have a keen sense of mystery and curiousity about them. He wants to add to the mystery of his story. Also, perhaps, understanding that Montresor is a really creepy guy and poor stupid Fortunato is a victim, he uses the sense of dislike some may have for the Freemasons (the stereotype of secrecy, hidden wealth, extreme control and misuse of power did not originate with Dan Brown) to make him a little less sympathetic.
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