illustration of Fortunato standing in motley behind a mostly completed brick wall with a skull superimposed on the wall where his face should be

The Cask of Amontillado

by Edgar Allan Poe
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How did Montresor know the house would be empty in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

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Montresor is a rather pathetic figure because he is poor and lives all alone in a huge palazzo. He has no wife or children, although he might have had a family who died. Since he is a poor man, as he tells Fortunato when they are down in the catacombs,...

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Montresor is a rather pathetic figure because he is poor and lives all alone in a huge palazzo. He has no wife or children, although he might have had a family who died. Since he is a poor man, as he tells Fortunato when they are down in the catacombs, he probably has a hard time retaining any staff of servants at all.

"Come," I said, with decision, "we will go back; your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter."

When he orders his servants to remain in the palazzo while he is gone overnight, he is not exactly using reverse psychology. Not all servants would behave as Montresor's servants have done. His servants don't respect him because he doesn't pay them enough money. And furthermore, he can't afford to hire the best class of servants. There must be times when he can't pay his staff anything. They stay on because they have a roof over their heads and get something to eat. (They probably also get plenty of wine to drink!) The servants do not "abscond" because Montresor tells them to stay at home; they do so because he tells them he will be gone all night. They don't care if he finds out that they all left to join in the carnival. He can't fire them because he can't get anybody to replace them. And such an enormous old dwelling needs some servants to keep it from ruin. And if he should fire them, they wouldn't have lost anything.

How does Montresor obtain any income at all? Why does he choose to live in an enormous palazzo when he is all alone in the world?

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Montresor told his servants that he would not be home, so they should not leave, because he knew they would leave.

Montresor knew that his house would be empty because he made sure that his servants would leave by telling them that he would not be returning home.  His servants don’t respect him.  He is certainly not up to Fortunato’s station in life.  He knows how to get rid of his servants.

I had told them that I should not return until the morning, and had given them explicit orders not to stir from the house.

If you tell people that you won’t be home, so they should not leave—chances are they will leave.  After all, you won’t be there to catch them!  So they all go off and make merry.  It’s carnival season!  Everything is hectic, and most people are just out having a good time.  It is the perfect opportunity to kill someone without raising suspicions.

Montresor chooses carnival time because he knows his servants will leave the house the minute his back is turned and they know he won't be coming back to catch them gone.  It is all part of his brilliant plan to have an alibi in case anyone wonders where he was.  It takes awhile to lure someone into catacombs and bury him in the wall, after all!

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Throughout Poe's classic short story "The Cask of Amontillado," the protagonist and narrator, Montresor, explains how he formulated and executed revenge on his unsuspecting enemy, Fortunato. Montresor cleverly waits to approach Fortunato during the hectic carnival season, where he is certain to discover his enemy intoxicated from hours of partying and drinking. After approaching Fortunato in a friendly manner, Montresor plays on Fortunato's pride and affinity for fine wines by telling him that he has acquired a pipe of Amontillado and was seeking Luchresi's expertise to authenticate the wine. Fortunato falls for Montresor's trap and demands that he taste the Amontillado.

Montresor proceeds to guide Fortunato to his palazzo and the two characters leave the carnival together. Montresor informs the reader that he knew his palazzo would be empty because he purposely told his servants that he would not return until the morning. Montresor understands that his servants will surely leave his home and abandon their duties as soon as he departs. This astute observation reveals that Montresor is an expert on human nature and duplicity. Being of the same mind as his servants, Montresor is aware of their true intentions and anticipates that they will abandon their duties as soon as his back is turned. Montresor's plan works and no one is home when he returns to his palazzo with Fortunato. Therefore, there are no witnesses and Montresor can successfully execute his revenge with impunity.

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"The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe is told from the first person point of view of the villain, Montresor. It appears to be written in the form of a confession, with the "you" being addressed perhaps a priest administering last rites. 

Montresor own the palazzo in question and apparently lives alone there except for his servants. He deliberately chose the night of the Carnival for his plot. He tells his servants that he will be gone all night at the Carnival and orders them to stay in the house and look after it, knowing that the desire of the servants to get out and attend the Carnival will cause them to disobey his orders to remain at the house. This is especially clever, because if the servants are called upon to testify in court, they will lie and say they were at the house in order to avoid getting in trouble with their master

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