Montresor narrates “The Cask of Amontillado,” relating the story of Fortunato's death fifty years earlier. Montresor's profession is unspecified, but it is clear that he is educated and wealthy, with a taste for fine things. Montresor holds a grudge against his “friend” Fortunato, claiming to have borne Fortunato’s insults to the best of his ability before deciding to seek revenge. Montresor reveals himself to be a skilled manipulator as he exploits Fortunato’s pride to lure him deep into the catacombs. Montresor’s conversation with Fortunato (who is drunk) reveals his ironic and darkly humorous nature: when Fortunato asks him if he is “of the masons,” Montresor pulls out the trowel that he will soon use to bury Fortunato alive. Once he lures the unsuspecting Fortunato into the deepest catacombs, Montresor mercilessly chains him up and walls him into a small alcove, leaving him to die. After Montresor has successfully walled Fortunato in, he appears to feel a momentary pang of regret but quickly attributes the feeling of sickness in his heart to the dampness of the catacombs.
For some readers, Montresor’s vague description of the “injuries” he has suffered at the hands of Fortunato brings into question his reliability as a narrator. Could Fortunato truly have offended Montresor so terribly, or is the offense only in Montresor’s head? On the other hand, Montresor’s cool, detached narration and his methodical planning of Fortunato’s demise suggest that though he is ruthless, he may be quite sane. As Montresor’s story is addressed to an unidentified person (who, presumably, knows things that the reader does not), readers cannot be certain to what extent Montresor’s revenge is justified. Just as we cannot be sure of Montresor’s motives, Poe leaves us in the dark as to Montresor’s feelings about the crime; is his exclamation “in pace requiescat!” (rest in peace) sarcastic or sincere? Some readers have speculated that Montresor’s decision to relate the story after all these years is a form of confession or an admission of guilt. Others interpret the retelling of his perfect crime as a form of bragging. By focusing on the events of the murder itself rather than the motive or aftermath, Poe leaves the reader guessing as to the true nature of the characters.
In “The Cask of Amontillado,” Fortunato is Montresor’s wealthy Italian “friend” and the object of his revenge. Fortunato’s name means “blessed” in Italian though, in an ironic twist, he ends up being the victim of murder. The story takes place during an Italian carnival, and Fortunato is dressed in a jester costume complete with bells that jingle. It is an appropriate outfit and reinforces Fortunato’s foolish nature. Montresor’s well-thought-out crime shows a deep understanding of Fortunato’s temperament and personality. Believing himself to be a connoisseur of fine wine, Fortunato is easily lured into Montresor’s catacombs by the promise of Amontillado. Though his drunkenness renders him especially foolish and incautious, it is his strong sense of pride that makes him exceptionally vulnerable to Montresor’s flattery. For example, to encourage Fortunato to follow him, Montresor suggests taking another wine expert, Luchesi, to see the Amontillado instead, knowing that Fortunato cannot bear being second to Luchesi. Fortunato follows Montresor deeper and deeper into the catacombs, his inebriation preventing him from picking up on several ominous clues as to his fate. Indeed, Montresor suggests multiple times that they turn back, knowing that the stubborn and single-minded Fortunato will insist on pressing forward.
Though it seems likely that Fortunato’s murder is undeserved, the story suggests that he is somewhat oblivious or even insensitive. We see from their conversation that Fortunato often subtly insults Montresor, casually mentioning that he has forgotten Montresor’s family arms and expressing incredulity at the thought of Montresor belonging to the same exclusive brotherhood as himself. Throughout their conversation, Montresor’s sycophantic and friendly comments to Fortunato are not reciprocated. Indeed, it is worth noting that Fortunato only addresses Montresor by name once he has realized that Montresor means to trap him. It is perhaps this insensitivity that prevents Fortunato from recognizing Montresor’s grudge in the first place. Through the character of Fortunato, Poe dramatically illustrates how weaknesses of character can lead to one’s demise.
Though he is not seen, Luchesi is the only other character in “The Cask of Amontillado.” Like Fortunato, he is a connoisseur of fine wines—a fact Montresor exploits to convince Fortunato to leave the carnival. Fortunato evidently believes that Luchesi’s expertise cannot match his own: “And as for Luchesi, he cannot distinguish Sherry from Amontillado." Cleverly combining his knowledge of Fortunato’s pride with reverse psychology, Montresor tells Fortunato that he will probably go consult Luchesi about the Amontillado. Just as Montresor expects, Fortunato’s response is to insist that he be shown the Amontillado first.