What are some of the themes in "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Two themes presented in the narrative of "The Cask of Amontillado" are disguise and vendetta.

Disguise is a prevalent theme in Poe's story as the characters wear costumes that hide their real appearances, and Montresor hides his true feelings until the end. Certainly, Montresor disguises himself as he lures Fortunato into the catacombs, and he hides his reasons for his revenge as he pretends to consult Fortunato about a "pipe of what passes for Amontillado" that he has stored in his family vaults. Cloaked in black and wearing a mask of black silk, Montresor leads Fortunato, who wears a clown suit of many colors and a conical cap with bells, into the catacombs of the Montresors. As they make their way through the niter-covered passages, Montresor disguises his hatred and lust for revenge by feigning concern for Fortunato's health:

"Come...we will go back; your health is precious.... We will go back, you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible."

Montresor further disguises his sinister intention to revenge himself on Fortunato as he feigns ignorance of the Freemasons and makes a pun about the name of this secret fraternal order. When Fortunato throws a bottle upwards into the air with a strange gesture that Montresor appears not to understand, Fortunato asks, "You are not of the brotherhood?" Montresor then pulls out a brick mason's trowel from the folds of his cloak as though he jokingly plays upon the word mason. But his real intention is to use this trowel to trap Fortunato into a niche in the catacombs and wall it up, leaving him to die.

Another theme is vendetta. Renaissance author Thomas Nashe once wrote that Italians would "carry an injury a whole age in memory." That Montresor is consumed with the idea of avenging himself against Fortunato for a "whole age" is suggested in his opening sentence about the "thousand injuries" that he has borne. In his act of vengeance, Montresor wants his victim to suffer for a long time, so he walls Fortunato into a niche that will not be "disturbed" for half a century. In this retaliation against Fortunato, Montresor takes great pride because no one has ever discovered the man. Also, Montresor feels that he has successfully taken his revenge upon his enemy for the "thousand injuries" that he has borne.

sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I will give you two themes I think are important to the story. They are in no particular order.

One theme of Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" is revenge. This should be a fairly obvious theme. Fortunato hurt and wronged Montresor in some way. The reader is not given specific details about it. Montresor vows revenge, and the rest of the story is about the execution of his plan for revenge.

The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.

Unfortunately for Fortunato, Montresor's revenge plot ends with Fortunato's death.  

Another theme is betrayal. Based on the opening line of the piece, readers can assume Montresor and Fortunato had some level of mutual respect for each other. In order for Montresor to be hurt badly enough to vow murderous revenge, at some point he and Fortunato must have had some level of trust in each other. Fortunato betrayed that trust, but the betrayal doesn't end with Fortunato. Montresor also betrays Fortunato's trust when he lures Fortunato to his horrible death.

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The Cask of Amontillado

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