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Describe the catacombs in "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe.

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safilena | Student, Grade 9 | eNoter

Posted October 30, 2012 at 10:10 PM via web

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Describe the catacombs in "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 31, 2012 at 12:25 AM (Answer #1)

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Sinister is a good word to describe the main character in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado.” Montresor has planned the perfect murder and carries it out.  The reader knows this because the entire story is told fifty years later by the elderly Montresor who narrators the story.  Monstresor decides to murder Fortunato because he has insulted him.  Not a good reason, but apparently it is all that Montresor has. 

The time of the story is during the carnival season probably much like the Mardi Gras today.  Apparently, it is a very rowdy time because Montresor uses the word “madness.” There are two settings for the story: the carnival scene and then Montresor’s home and the catacombs beneath his palace. 

The Catacombs-

Monstresor had made careful preparations for the murder. The catacombs were the perfect place for a murder.  All of the servants had been dismissed to go to the carnival, so there was no one at home.  Catacombs were underground burial tunnels.  The corpses would be laid in indentions in the walls of the catacombs. 

As they begin their descent down into the catacombs, Montresor grabs two torches.  Obviously, this is a dark and damp place.  The use of the word descent would imply that the catacombs lie far beneath the base of the house.  Along the walls of the cavern were frames that had been built to hold wine bottles. Everything is moist and moldy since it is so far beneath the ground.

As the men travel through the vast cavern, they pass by many walls with bones and skeletons piled up and mixed in with large and small barrels of wine.

'The nitre!' I said; 'see, it increases. It hangs like moss upon the vaults. We are below the river's bed. The drops of moisture trickle among the bones. Come, we will go back ere it is too late. Your cough -'

Nitre is potassium nitrate.  In the sun, it hardens, but in moist areas is clings together and has a mossy appearance.  The nitre is everywhere along the walls and ceilings. Moving through the catacombs becomes more difficult because there are low arches which support the ceiling of the tunnel.

At the farthest end of the cavern is another crypt.  All three granite walls are lined with more skeletons piled to the top of the ceiling.  In the farthest corner, there was an inset or recess which was to be the burial place for the unsuspecting Fortunato.  

Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” could be found deep in the catacombs of the Montresor family.  That is the crux of the story.  Fortunato’s hubris will force him to leave the carnival and follow Montresor down into the vault to taste the wine.  Through several psychological ploys, the drunken Fortunato intends to show Montresor that he has been a fool by buying fake Amontillado.

Montresor has made detailed plans to draw Fortunato into the catacombs. Catacombs in Italy are ancient underground burial tunnels that were used to bury thousands of bodies. His servants have been allowed to attend the carnival. No one is home at the Montresor house.  As the pair enters the catacombs, Montresor lights two torches. 

As they begin their journey from freedom to confinement, Montresor points out to Fortunato the white web work on the walls and ceiling.

 …passed through a range of low arches, descended, passed on, and descending again, arrived at a deep crypt, in which the foulness of the air caused our flambeaux rather to glow than flame. The nitre!" I said; "see, it increases. It hangs like moss upon the vaults. We are below the river's bed. The drops of moisture trickle among the bones. Come, we will go back ere it is too late. Your cough --"

Fortunato states that it is nitre [potassium nitrate] caused by the dampness in the underground tunnels. The vaults are encrusted with the crystalline salt used to make gunpowder. 

The air is foul as they pass through the damp tunnels and low arches supporting the catacombs. The walls are piled with skeletons mingled with small and large barrels of wine.  The depth of the tunnel goes beneath the water level.  Drops of moisture fall on the men as the pass through the tunnels. Traveling through the mounds of bones made the journey more unpleasant because of the stench.   

When they arrive at the farthest end of the tomb, there is larger vault.  It walls were stacked to the ceiling with bones and human remains.  Behind a huge wall of bones, there was another are that had been recently constructed in a certain size and had a back wall of granite.

Fortunato is trapped in a space that represents the opposite of freedom: he is chained up and bricked inside a man-sized crypt with no air and no way out. It was here that Fortunato was to spend the rest of his life shackled to this wall

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