What literary elements are in Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado"?  

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

From the opening hyperbole, Edgar Allan Poe employs several literary elements in his macabre short story, "The Cask of Amontillado."


  • The unreliable narrator, Montesor, opens the narrative discussing the "thousand injuries of Fortunato" that he has had to bear.  Yet, he never enumerates any of these injuries.


  • This opening paragraph certainly has the suggestion of Montesor's intentions to be avenged against Fortunato as he discusses how he will be avenged.
  • In the third paragraph, Montesor mentions that Fortunato has a weakness of considering himself a connoisseur of wine, thus hinting at the means that Montesor may use to lure Fortunato.
  • The setting is dusk in the time of the "supreme madness."  This approaching darkness foreshadows the darkness to which Fortunato will be subjected.  And, the noise of the celebration can cover any noise that might draw attention.
  • Fortunato's name is an ironic foreshadowing of his unfortunate end. 
  • Montesor's mention of Fortunato's drunkenness foreshadows the method Montesor will use to lure Fortunato into the catacombs.
  • Montesor has made plans for the servants to be gone by telling them that he will not return to his house until the morrow.  So, with the house abandoned, there can be no witnesses.


  • As a Gothic story, Poe's tale is dark and foreboding. 
  • Nevertheless, the mood changes from this darkness to comical at times as Montesor describes Fortunato in his tight-fitting harlequin outfit, with his cap jingling, tettering in the doorways sputtering "Ugh! Ugh!ugh!ugh!--ugh! ugh! ugh!"  He also appears foolish when he ask Montesor if he is not a mason.
  • Certainly, there is a terrifying mood at thend.  Interestingly, Poe subverts the Gothic convention by using human beings for terrible deeds.  The horror lies in what they are capable of.


  • There is sound imagery with the jingling of Fortunato's fool's bells, as well as his coughing from the niter and the foulness of the air.  His screaming of "For the love of God, Montresor" is horrifying.
  • Sight imagery occurs with the costume of Fortunato, the niter-covered catacombs, the bones scattered about, the flambeaux, the Montresor coat of arms, and the wall to which Fortunato is tettered.

Double entendre

Montresor makes a play upon the word mason as he will lay the bricks to imprison Fortunato (bricklayer), but Fortunato means the Freemason, a secret fraternal order.


  • This is a technique that Poe himself named as he has a motif to which focuses upon the psychological aspect of a character.  Returning and returning to the illness of the mind in the character, certain expressions and attitudes of the character are reiterated.  For instance, Fortunato continues to berate Luchesi, he refuses to admit to the affect of the niter upon him, and he fails to perceive any threats.
  • Arabesque also refers to Poe's returning to certain characteristics or actions that are repeated.
  • Montesor returns repeatedly to the idea of not going forward because of Fortunato's health.


Dramatic Irony -

  • Fortunato mitigates his cough, saying it will not kill him "I shall not die of a cough." Also, Fortunato calls Luchesi "an ignoramus."
  • Fortunato believes he is safe when Montesor plans to kill him.
  • Fortunato says, "I drink...to the buried...."

Verbal Irony

  • So often Montresor expresses concern for the health of Fortunato
  • Montresor tells Fortunato he is a mason
  • Montresor says, "In pace requiescat!" meaning really "Good riddance!"
Read the study guide:
The Cask of Amontillado

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