How does the setting affect the story in "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“We had passed through long walls of piled skeletons, with casks and puncheons intermingling, into the inmost recesses of the catacombs.”

The setting in many stories becomes as important as the characters.  In “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe, there are many layers of the setting. This contributes to the perfect crime committed by Montresor.

Montresor, an interesting protagonist, makes plans to kill Fortunato.  His detailed design includes every possible angle to ensure the fulfillment of his desired revenge against the man who has harmed him many times but now has insulted him. 

The time of the year is the carnival season. Everyone will be dressed in a costume and masked.  No one will be able to recognize the other people. 

Other plans had to be made before this. First, Montresor makes sure that his servants will not be at his house by forbidding them to attend the carnival.  Naturally, they go anyway. 

Next, in advance, Montresor prepares everything in the catacombs for the last part of his revenge. The catacombs are an important part of the plot.  Used as burial sites for the families, the catacombs go deep under the ground.  Niches in the walls were made to place the corpses which often would fall on to the floor as the flesh wore away from the skeleton. 

Because of the eerie surroundings, smell, and dampness, no one would enter the catacombs unless they had to go.  The farthest reaches of the tunnel would never be touched because they would have already been filled with the bodies of ancestors of long ago.  This was the perfect place to bury someone alive.

Montresor already had placed his accoutrements down in the catacombs: shackles in place; mortar and bricks; and the niche where he would build the wall ready.  The preparations were complete.

Fortunato fancies himself a connoisseur of wine. Montresor knows this and makes plans to lure the unsuspecting Fortunato to his catacombs where he keeps his wine.  He tells Fortunato about a rather rare wine, Amontillado, that Montresor is not sure is real. Entreating his help to be sure about the wine, Montresor gains Fortunato’s agreement to go to his house and taste the wine.

Suffering from a cold and too much alcohol, Fortunato easily follows his murderer to the appointed end of the catacombs to taste the amontillado.  Unfortunately for Fortunato, Montresor has something else in mind. 

At the most remote end of the crypt there appeared another less spacious.  Its walls had been lined with human remains, piled to the vault overhead, in the fashion of the great catacombs of Paris. Three sides of this interior crypt were still ornamented in this way. The walls were made solid granite.

Easily chained to the wall, Fortunato does not understand in the beginning. Slowly, he realizes what is happening and begins to yell and scream. Montresor accompanies him with the screaming telling Fortunato that no one will ever hear because they are so deep in the catacombs. Finally, all that can be heard are the bells of his jester’s hat.

Montresor completes his brickwork with just a bit of guilt.  The setting enabled him to attain his desired revenge. Fifty years later, the bones have not been disturbed. 

Read the study guide:
The Cask of Amontillado

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