What do the jingling bells symbolize or represent in  the story "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe?

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In Edgar Allan Poe's famous short story "The Cask of Amontillado," Fortunato is dressed in "motley" in the costume of a clown for the carnival season. Fortunato wears a conical cap with bells on it when he meets Montresor in the streets. Poe juxtaposes Fortunato's conspicuous costume with Montresor's black mask and cloak. The jingling bells sharply contrast with Montresor's inconspicuous outfit and motives. As Montresor leads the unsuspecting Fortunato towards his death in the depths of the catacombs, the bells on Fortunato's cap continually jingle. The deeper Fortunato travels into the catacombs, the sound of the jingling bells can be heard at integral moments. Fortunato's bells ring as he walks unsteadily down the vaults, when he drinks a glass of Medoc, and most significantly when Montresor throws a torch into the last opening of the wall, where Fortunato is buried alive.

The bells symbolically represent the increasing tension, the passage of time, and Fortunato's impending death. The sound of jingling bells creates an eerie atmosphere that builds suspense as Montresor's plan gradually unfolds. The sound of bells also corresponds to the sound of a death knell, which signals a person's fate. The jingling bells can also symbolize the passage of time as Fortunato's life comes to an end.

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Drunken, sick, foolish, arrogant—this is the victim in the story “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s tightly woven story is narrated through Montresor who seeks revenge from Fortunato for undisclosed insults. Much planning and preparation has gone into Montresor’s scheme to kill Fortunato. 

Poor ridiculous Fortunato does not have a clue that his "supposed" friend is leading him to his death.  Fortunato is dressed as a court jester [also called a fool] whose purpose is to entertain his audience: an appropriate dress for this man ignorant of what is happening to him.

 The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells. I [Montresor] was so pleased to see him that I thought I should never have done wringing his hand.

As Montresor leads Fortunato through the catacombs toward the wine, Fortunato’s bells are often heard.

  • The gait of my friend was unsteady, and the bells upon his cap jingled as he strode
  •  He raised it to his lips with a leer. He paused and nodded to me familiarly, while his bells jingled.
  • The wine sparkled in his eyes and the bells jingled.

Each sounding of the bells moves Fortunato closer to his fate.

Symbolically, bells represent many aspects of life.

  1. Bells toll to represent time.  This is true in the story as the jingling of the bells ring as his time runs out on his life.
  2. Poe uses the bells to build toward the climactic moment when Montresor quickly chains Fortunato to the wall. 
  3. Bells also denote the death of someone. Fortunato’s last sound before his death is the ringing of his bells as he accepts his fate and knows that there is no hope.

As he walls up Fortunato in his  tomb, Monstresor calls to Fortunato:

No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. There came forth in return only jingling of the bells.

No one knows for sure what that last sound meant. Fortunate may have let his head fall forward on his chest, or may be he passed out due to the cold and his illness. No matter because Fortunato is silenced forever. As Montresor states: Rest in peace.

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