The Cask of Amontillado Questions and Answers

Edgar Allan Poe

Read real teacher answers to our most interesting The Cask of Amontillado questions.

How does Poe explore the theme of disguise?

Poe explores the theme of disguise in this story, both in practical and psychological terms. For example, disguise is a critical component in Montresor's ability to carry out his revenge plot. The story is set during Carnival, just before Lent, during which everyone who is celebrating wears a costume to disguise his or her identity. Montresor uses his disguise, a mask and black cloak (much like an executioner) to ensure that he is not identified as having been with Fortunato. Fortunato is himself costumed as a jester or fool, symbolic of his character. In addition, the catacombs, part of the gothic framework of the story, also provide a crucial part of the disguise—they are hidden underneath Montresor's palazzo and descend into the earth where no one goes on a regular basis (except to the upper levels where wine is stored). From a psychological standpoint, Montresor very successfully disguises himself and his intentions from Fortunato and the outside world when he poses as Fortunato's true friend, and one can argue that the "insult" itself is the most important disguised element of all.

What is the significance of Fortunato's jingling bells?

Many questions have been asked about the significance of Fortunato's carnival costume and the jingling bells on his hat. In the first place, Poe dressed his character in a jester's costume to make him as conspicuous as possible. Fortunato chose the costume because he thinks of himself as a clever jester. Montresor wants to lure Fortunato off the streets and down into his catacombs. The fact that Fortunato is so conspicuous and even has ringing bells on his hat seems to make Montresor's task more difficult, since Montresor does not want to be seen with the man on the night he disappears. But this is the main plot problem to be solved. The protagonist, Montresor, has a motive, which is to commit a murder. His problem is to do so without being caught and punished. The victim's costume simply makes the problem greater. But Poe, a literary genius, realized that the more attention Fortunato attracted to himself, the less attention would be given to the man in black who was with him and who was wearing a black mask. Many of the intoxicated revelers would remember seeing Fortunato, but none would remember seeing his companion, who would be almost a shadow.

So the jingling bells help to attract attention to Fortunato. But that is not all. They serve to place him, to locate him, to represent him while the two men are down in the stygian catacombs. The reader eventually cannot visualize Fortunato in that darkness but can only hear him and know that he is following his nemesis to his death.

Poe mentions the jingling bells many times throughout the story. The last time he refers to Fortunato's bells comes very near the end.

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

This excerpt from the story's last paragraph should show Poe's intention. The reader cannot visualize Fortunato because he is completely walled up. Even Montresor, whose point of view has been the reader's point of view throughout the story, cannot see his victim. The jingling of bells behind the newly erected wall suggests that Fortunato is still alive and may remain in that horrible situation for a long time before he expires. The jingling bells have been telling Montresor and the reader the whereabouts of the victim in the pitch darkness, and they serve as absolute proof of Fortunato's final fate. Poe cannot describe Fortunato in chains after the wall is completed because the author does not want to depart from Montresor's point of view; and Montresor cannot see what the scene is like behind the wall.

Montresor wanted, above all, satisfaction. The jingling bells in the last paragraph tell him that he has achieved his complete and perfect revenge. The bells place Fortunato in a site where he will never be found. After fifty years he will be nothing but another skeleton. When Montresor pens the final words, In pace requiescat, he is signifying that he has achieved full closure.

How does Montresor lure Fortunato to his death?

Many first-time readers might not understand the subtlety in Montresor’s method of luring Fortunato into his catacombs. They believe Fortunato is motivated by a desire (1) to drink some delicious Amontillado, (2) to demonstrate his connoisseurship, (3) to do Montresor a favor, and (4) to prove he knows more about wine than Luchesi. None of these beliefs is entirely correct. The whole story does not have to be read to understand how Montresor has baited his trap. The following contains all the information necessary to appreciate the thought Poe devoted to fashioning the story Montresor tells Fortunato. The nonexistent cask of Amontillado is the bait. The first minutes are crucial.

I said to him—“My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking to-day. But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts.”
“How?” said he. “Amontillado. A pipe? Impossible! And in the middle of the carnival!”
“I have my doubts,” I replied; “and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter. You were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain.”
“Amontillado!”
“I have my doubts.”
“Amontillado!”
“And I must satisfy them.”
“Amontillado!”
“As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchesi. If any one has a critical turn it is he. He will tell me—”

Montresor says, “You are luckily met” because he wants Fortunato to think he has been seeking him on an important matter. Then Montresor says, “But I have received…” The words “But” and “received” deserve particular attention. “But” implies that Montresor would like to join Fortunato, but he is on an urgent errand. He does not say he has purchased a pipe of Amontillado, only that he has “received” one. This suggests he has previously ordered the cask that has just been delivered. He has to say “received” so that Fortunato will believe the wine is at Montresor’s home and nowhere else. The obvious assumption is that a ship from Barcelona has arrived with an entire cargo of Amontillado. There is no other way Montresor’s cask could have been transported to Venice.

Fortunato does not ask questions about the transaction for several reasons, including that he is drunk. The “But” gives Fortunato no time to ask questions of a man in a hurry. And he does not want to show too much interest in details for fear of revealing that he would like to get in on this bargain. He must volunteer to sample the wine before Montresor goes to Luchesi. If he accompanies Montresor to his palazzo, Fortunato can keep Luchesi from finding out about this bargain. What interests Fortunato is the possibility of making a huge profit, and not sipping a glass of sweet wine in a cold, dark, damp catacomb in order to please a friend and to show off his supposed connoisseurship. Fortunato would not have to go with Montresor at all if it were not for Luchesi, who would also be very interested in the bargain if he learned about it. Fortunato otherwise could tell Montresor he could not accompany him that night—after all, he is inadequately dressed, he has a bad cold, and he could invent a previous engagement—and then go directly to the harbor and find the Spanish ship. He doesn’t need to taste Montresor’s wine; he can sample it from several big casks on board.

Why does Montresor repeat, “I have my doubts”? The manifest meaning is that he needs an expert to advise him. But why so urgently? Because he got a bargain and wants to buy more before word gets out. That is why he is running around looking for Fortunato and then giving up on finding him and heading for Luchesi’s. He wants to buy more wine that night, but he has to be sure it is genuine. Otherwise it is no bargain. But Poe concocted another reason for “I have my doubts.” If Fortunato cannot accompany him that night, he is sure to inquire about it later. This is one reason Montresor says he “received” the pipe. He can say he bought it from a person who wishes to remain anonymous. He never claimed there was more available or that he wanted to buy more. And if Fortunato asks to taste that totally fictitious Amontillado, Montresor can present him with a bottle of ordinary sherry and say it was drawn from the big cask. Fortunato will taste it, shake his head, and hopefully forget the matter. Montresor will have to think of some other way of disposing of his enemy. He will never be able to lure him into his catacombs with a similar cock-and-bull story.

Finally Montresor says, “As you are engaged...” He wants to find out whether Fortunato is expected at home or anywhere else that night. He must leave a cold trail. He doesn’t want Fortunato missed before tomorrow morning at the earliest. Montresor fails to respond to the first gambit. But when Fortunato takes him by the arm and proceeds to drag him off to his wine cellar, Montresor says:

“My friend, no; I will not impose upon your good nature. I perceive you have an engagement. Luchesi—"
“I have no engagement,—come.”

Once Fortunato says, “I have no engagement,” his doom is sealed. Fortunato will be recognized by many drunken celebrants, especially with his conspicuous jester’s costume and jingling bells; but his companion, wearing a black cloak and a black mask, will be as nameless as a shadow.

The subtlety of Montresor’s entrapment scheme could be lost on first-time readers, who might make the assumption that Fortunato is motivated by a desire (1) to drink some delicious Amontillado, (2) to demonstrate his connoisseurship, (3) to do his friend a favor, and (4) to prove he knows more about wine than Luchesi. But a careful reader will see much more in the story, which can be read over and over with new insights.

Is Montresor an unreliable narrator?

Many people have called Montresor an "unreliable narrator." Some seem to think Montresor is telling his story to them. There are multiple ways to look at this issue, but one can definitely make the case that Montresor is a reliable narrator. Poe makes it clear from the beginning that this is a confidential communication to one single individual whom Montresor has known for many years. He addresses this person as "You, who so well know the nature of my soul." If he is unreliable, he is not intentionally so. If the reader fails to understand something Montresor says or writes, that does not mean the confidant, or confidante, does not understand it perfectly. If Montresor is "unreliable," it can only be because he does not understand himself; he is not trying to deceive the confidant or confidante, and there is no one else he could have been trying to deceive.

So, where is the evidence of unreliability? Most people point to the thousand injuries plus an insult. Montresor is certainly unreliable in what he says to Fortunato, but he knows he is being intentionally deceptive. Why does it seem unreliable to say that he received a thousand injuries from his victim? Surely the recipient has heard from Montresor a number of times over the fifty years before receiving this strange confession. If the reader does not know the nature of at least some of the injuries, the person who reads the confession must surely have heard about some of them in all that time. If they had not been corresponding for fifty years, Montresor would not be so sure he could trust the other person with this incriminating revelation. He considers the other man, or woman, a person who knows all about him, who knows the nature of his soul. Is this also supposed to be unreliable? Was Montresor making a big mistake in trusting this other person with such information? That seems unlikely because he had taken such great precautions, not only to commit the murder, but to do so with what he calls "impunity." No one would suspect him of having anything to do with Fortunato's strange disappearance because everyone thought they were the best of friends. Montresor repeatedly refers to his victim as "my friend," "my good friend," and "my poor friend" even when he is leading him to his death. He has conditioned himself to think of Fortunato as his friend and always to speak of him as his friend, even as his good friend. He should be above suspicion, and he would have been the one who showed the most concern about Fortunato's whereabouts for the longest time. The reader can only call Montresor "unreliable" if he assumes Montresor is addressing him, but Poe has invented a narrative device that enables him to leave out a plethora of background information in order to focus on the dramatic aspect of the narrative.

How does Montresor display foresight in his murder of Fortunato?

Montresor specifies that he must murder with "impunity" in order for his revenge to be totally successful. He knows there is sure to be a big investigation into Fortunato's mysterious disappearance. It could actually go on for years. If the police authorities gave up on it, Fortunato's family might still pursue the investigation. It would long be the talk of the town. Montresor wanted to be above suspicion. That explains why he calls Fortunato "my friend" and why he refers to him many times throughout the story as "my friend," "my good friend," and "my poor friend." He has conditioned himself to think of Fortunato as his very good friend even though he plans to murder him. No doubt he customarily refers to Fortunato as "my friend Fortunato" at every opportunity. And no doubt Montresor continued to ask about his good friend for years after his disappearance, longer than anybody else in Venice. He had concealed his victim behind a stone wall and plastered it over to make it look like part of the solid rock wall of the catacombs. Nevertheless, he would have preferred not to be included in any house-to-house search. He assumed that no one would ever suspect him of having murdered Fortunato because they were such very good "friends." He was probably right in this assumption. During the fifty years that have passed since he chained his victim to the rock wall, it is unlikely that anyone has passed by that spot, with the possible exception of Montresor himself. Montresor has not only committed his crime without being caught in the act, but he has managed to avoid any hint of suspicion that he could have had anything to do with the strange disappearance.

Many questions have been asked about the "thousand injuries of Fortunato." Readers wonder why Poe didn't at least give a few examples. Poe had to be vague about the “thousand injuries” because he had to protect Montresor from suspicion. Perhaps the injuries would have to be of such a nature that they would be known only to Montresor. Fortunato himself might not have considered them injuries at all but as "jests." Montresor is obviously a hypersensitive man who might feel slight injuries more poignantly than others. The fact that Montresor has endured a thousand injuries should not be surprising if the injuries were so slight and so subtle that nobody else was aware of them and everybody thought the two men were the best of friends. In other words, if the injuries were petty, there would have to be a lot of them to motivate Montresor to retaliate. 

Poe actually gives samples of the kinds of injuries Montresor has suffered. Here is one:

He raised it to his lips with a leer. He paused and nodded to me familiarly, while his bells jingled.
“I drink,” he said, “to the buried that repose around us.”

Fortunato knows that all these bones are not those of Montresor's ancestors. Montresor's French name shows he is a relative newcomer to Italy. He doesn't consider himself Italian. He probably doesn't own the palazzo but is renting it from the owner, who is also the owner of most of the bones. Fortunato is being disingenuous. The "leer" shows he is being intentionally cruel in reminding Montresor of his inferior social status.

Here is another example of Fortunato's injuries:

“I forget your arms.”
“A huge human foot d'or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel.”
“And the motto?”
“Nemo me impune lacessit.”

Fortunato does not believe that Montresor has a coat of arms. Here again he is being disingenuous. In fact, Montresor's family does not have a coat of arms or a motto, and Montresor is only making them up to amuse himself. Both the imaginary coat of arms and the motto are too appropriate to the situation. Fortunato may or may not believe they are genuine, but he is too drunk to give them much thought at this time.

Why has Montresor continued to associate with Fortunato all this time if he keeps receiving injuries and contumely? Perhaps the two men have some business relations which are important to Montresor because Fortunato is rich and well connected. The third paragraph of the story suggests that both these men deal in one-of-a-kind luxury items such as oil paintings, jewelry (gemmery), and antiques. Perhaps even in real estate. They are not shopkeepers, by any means, but might be described as "gentlemen brokers."

He had a weak point—this Fortunato—although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself on his connoisseur-ship in wine. Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit. For the most part their enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and opportunity, to practise imposture upon the British and Austrian millionaires. In painting and gemmary, Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack, but in the matter of old wines he was sincere. In this respect I did not differ from him materially;—I was skilful in the Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.

Who is Montresor addressing when he says "You, who so well know the nature of my soul"?

It has been suggested that Montresor is confessing to a priest. It has also been suggested that he is writing a letter to a friend. There are other possible answers to the many questions about the identity of "You, who so well know the nature of my soul."

One of them is that "You" means you, the reader. This puts you close to the narrator. It also makes you an accomplice, because you know where the body is buried. You are to imagine that you have known Montresor all your life and that he is confiding in you because you are the only person he can trust with his guilty secret. By the time you finish reading this tale you will indeed know the nature of his soul very well. 

Another possibility is that Montresor is addressing a totally imaginary confidant or confidante, or perhaps a private diary.

Why doesn't Fortunato ask questions?

Fortunato accompanies Montresor all the way to his palazzo, down into his catacombs, and along winding corridors to the niche where he is imprisoned. During all that time he never asks any of the questions that should have been obvious. Why not? Why doesn't he ask where Montresor bought the Amontillado? Why doesn't he ask how much he paid for it? Why doesn't he ask the name of the person Montresor dealt with? Why doesn't he ask where the wine was produced or how long it had been aged?

Edgar Allan Poe realized it would seem strange to the reader that Fortunato never asked any questions about the wine, although the two men would obviously have to talk about something during all the time they were together, and the obvious thing for them to talk about would be the Amontillado they are supposedly going to sample. Poe tries to account for Fortunato's failure to ask questions about the wine in a number of ways:

  • Fortunato is intoxicated when Montresor encounters him on the street, and Montresor keeps him intoxicated until he has him chained to the rock wall. Presumably this drunken condition would prevent Fortunato from thinking clearly, so that he might even forget why they were there and where they were going.
  • Poe provides Fortunato with a very bad cold and a cough. The author even devotes a whole separate paragraph to describing the cough.“Ugh! ugh! ugh!—ugh! ugh! ugh!—ugh! ugh! ugh!—ugh! ugh! ugh!—ugh! ugh! ugh!” The sole purpose for giving Fortunato that cough is to make it hard for him to talk. Montresor even says, "My poor friend found it impossible to reply for many minutes."
  • Montresor distracts Fortunato on more than one occasion by calling his attention to all the nitre on the catacomb walls. "The nitre!” I said; “see, it increases. It hangs like moss upon the vaults. We are below the river's bed. The drops of moisture trickle among the bones. Come, we will go back ere it is too late. Your cough—”
  • The men engage in some chit-chat about Montresor's coat of arms and family motto and the Masons. All of this is only to fill up space with some conversation not related to the Amontillado. If Fortunato is such a great connoisseur, he might know a lot more about that type of wine than either Montresor or Edgar Allan Poe. This partially explains why Poe would rather not have to answer a lot of questions about it.
  • Montresor is not as naive as Fortunato supposed. Montresor knows that his "friend" is only interested in the wine because Montresor has told him he got a bargain. Fortunato, we may suspect from his strange silence on the subject, is already planning to say that the wine is only ordinary sherry. He might assume a Spanish ship loaded with barrels of Amontillado sherry has just arrived in port and the Spaniards are having a hard time selling it because everybody is neglecting business during the carnival. Fortunato could easily find the ship and buy up the whole cargo. But, if this were true, he has to make sure it is genuine Amontillado.

Is the story Montresor tells Fortunato about the Amontillado believable?

How does Fortunato expect to taste the Amontillado that Montresor claims to have stored in his underground vaults? Both men refer to the cask as a "pipe," which is a huge barrel containing 126 gallons. The wine must have been aged in the wooden barrel. The pipe would be on its side and slightly tilted forward. There would be a spigot at the bottom of the round end of the barrel by which the vintner could draw off a small glass of the wine from time to time in order to test it. This makes it a little suspicious that he would have to bring Fortunato into the catacombs to taste the wine—but Fortunato, drunk and blinded by pride, follows credulously.

Fortunato's drunkenness—and perhaps his cough—prevents him from asking many questions. He is a clever man, but he is not thinking straight. From the time Montresor encounters Fortunato on the street to the time he chains him to the rock wall inside the niche, Fortunato does not ask any of the obvious questions about the price, the seller, or why exactly they're traveling so far underground. Montresor sets the scene for his revenge by instead talking about Masons and his coat of arms.

What makes Montresor's entrapment scheme successful?

Montresor's scheme to lure Fortunato to his death may be understood from the few lines of dialogue between the two men when they first meet. The following is what Montresor says, with Fortunato's dialogue left out.

I said to him—“My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking to-day. But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts....I have my doubts,” I replied; “and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter. You were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain....I have my doubts. And I must satisfy them. As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchesi. If any one has a critical turn it is he. He will tell me—”

Montresor has honed his story to perfection. He wants to get Fortunato to come to his palazzo immediately. Otherwise Fortunato might have time to check on the story and find there was no newly arrived shipment of Amontillado in port. Fortunato might also tell other people that he was going to Montresor's home at his request to sample some wine. But Montresor's story forces Fortunato to come immediately if he wants to come at all. Montresor says he is on his way to see Luchesi. He pretends to be in a big hurry to have an expert sample his totally fictitious cask of wine and tell him whether or not it is genuine Amontillado. Why? Because he got it at a bargain price. He only bought one cask because he wasn't sure it was genuine. But he would like to buy more if he can get an expert to taste it and reassure him.

This is what interests Fortunato—the bargain. He is not going to Montresor's palazzo to do a favor for a friend. He is not anxious to show off his connoisseurship. He is not interested in drinking a glass of wine, however delicious, in a dank, dark catacomb, especially when he is inadequately dressed and has a bad cold. But he senses the possibility of making a lot of money. Neither man is really interested in acquiring a "pipe" of Amontillado for personal consumption. A pipe contains 126 gallons. Both are thinking of buying the wine for resale purposes.

Montresor appears to be struggling financially. If he were sure his Amontillado was genuine he might buy one or two more pipes. But Fortunato is a rich man. He could buy an entire shipload of Amontillado, bottle it, and make a small fortune. If it took a few years to dispose of the wine that wouldn't matter. The wine would only improve with age in its wooden cask. But Fortunato would also have to be sure it was genuine. He doesn't really need to go to Montresor's palazzo to establish that. If there is a Spanish ship in port bringing a cargo of wine from Barcelona, he could find it easily just by inquiring on the waterfront. He could sample the wine aboard the ship and buy up the entire cargo. Ordinarily he would probably give Montresor some excuse and go directly to the Spanish ship—but Montresor has added Luchesi to his scheme. If Fortunato begs off because of his cold, or for any other reason, Montresor would go straight to Luchesi. We can assume that this third man is a potential competitor. Fortunato might find himself competing with Luchesi in bidding up the price of the wine. He doesn't want Luchesi to hear a word about this bargain—that is why he sees he must go to Montresor's palazzo immediately.

Montresor knows his victim from bitter past experience. He is not foolish enough to think that Fortunato will tell him the truth. Readers might suspect that Fortunato is already planning to taste the wine, shake his head, and say it is only ordinary sherry. In fact, he seems to be preparing Montresor for disappointment when he says earlier, before they have even started for Montresor's palazzo:

"You have been imposed upon."

What does "In pace requiescat!" mean?

Montresor knows that his revenge against Fortunato would not be satisfying if he himself were caught and punished. He must also realize that killing Fortunato would not bring him satisfaction unless it enabled him to get rid of the bad feelings he harbors against the man. Montresor feels anger, hatred, resentment, and humiliation, among other things. When he achieves his perfect revenge and his hated enemy is dead, Montresor feels cleansed of all his bitter feelings. Revenge is sweet. After the passage of fifty years, Montresor can feel assured that he will never even be suspected of causing Fortunato to disappear so mysteriously. If he thinks of Fortunato at all, he pictures him as a wretched skeleton still chained to the granite wall in the narrow niche, still wearing the soiled rags of his jester's costume. He no longer hates this man at all. Montresor has achieved closure. He has cleansed his heart and mind of all the bitterness he felt because of the thousand injuries he had endured. This is why it is appropriate that Montresor ends his story with the words "In pace requiescat!" or "Rest in peace!" Montresor is not being sarcastic. He really and truly means it. This is sweet revenge. Fortunato is nothing now. He is of no more importance to Montresor than all those other bones in the catacombs. Montresor feels obliged to say "In pace requiescat!" Who else could say it? He is the only person in the whole wide world who knows where Fortunato's body is interred, and the only person in the whole wide world who knows how it got there. Montresor wishes Fortunato to rest in peace because he himself has found peace of mind by disposing of him.

How does Montresor behave toward Fortunato?

Montresor's attitude towards Fortunato throughout "The Cask of Amontillado" can best be described as obsequious. This word is defined in various ways. Dictionary.com defines it as:

characterized by or showing servile complaisance or defer-ence....fawning

"Fawning" is defined as:

displaying exaggerated flattery or affection

Montresor certainly displays exaggerated affection. Although he hates Fortunato and intends to murder him in a horrible way, he calls him "My friend" and refers to him as "my good friend" and "my poor friend" throughout the tale. Here are some examples of obsequious speech and behavior intended to reassure his intended victim of his good will:

I said to him—“My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking to-day."
“My friend, no; I will not impose upon your good nature."
I took from their sconces two flambeaux, and giving one to Fortunato, bowed him through several suites of rooms to the archway that led into the vaults. 
“Come,” I said, with decision, “we will go back; your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter. We will go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible. Besides, there is Luchesi—”

Montresor's behavior is that of an inferior towards a superior. This suggests an answer to the questions: Why did Montresor put up with a "thousand injuries"? Why didn't he just stay away from him? Montresor is dependent upon Fortunato for money. The third paragraph suggests that these two men may invest in luxury items.

He had a weak point—this Fortunato—although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself on his connoisseur-ship in wine. Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit. For the most part their enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and opportunity, to practise imposture upon the British and Austrian millionaires. In painting and gemmary, Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack, but in the matter of old wines he was sincere. In this respect I did not differ from him materially;—I was skilful in the Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.

Perhaps Montresor put up with Fortunato's injuries because he needed him for business purposes. Meanwhile, Montresor's hatred keeps building but he continues to act obsequiously while intending to take his revenge when the time is ripe.

It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued, as was my wont to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation.

It is interesting to note that even when Montresor has his "friend" chained to the granite wall he does not gloat or vent his hate and anger. He maintains the same obsequious manner he has been exhibiting all along. Fortunato will understand that Montresor has been deceiving him all these years.

“Pass your hand,” I said, “over the wall; you cannot help feeling the nitre. Indeed, it is very damp. Once more let me implore you to return. No? Then I must positively leave you. But I must first render you all the little attentions in my power.”

What are the "thousand injuries of Fortunato"?

Many readers have complained about the fact that Montresor never offers any examples of the thousand injuries he claims to have suffered. Some readers think Montresor must be insane and only imagining the injuries. The story was originally published in 1846, and to this day the thousand injuries have remained a puzzle. It almost seems as if Edgar Allan Poe was playing a joke on his readers, leaving them to wonder what those injuries could have been or whether there were any injuries at all. But Montresor is not addressing us readers; he is addressing a confidential confession to someone he calls "You, who so well know the nature of my soul." That person must have known about some of Montresor's grievances, but he or she is dead now, and nobody else will ever know what any of those grievances were. They must be kept secret, just as Fortunato's body must be kept hidden from the world. If anybody knew that Fortunato had injured Montresor a thousand times, then Montresor would be a prime suspect. And if he were a prime suspect, a careful search of his premises would lead to the discovery of Fortunato's body. That is why the reader comes up against a stone wall. Poe intended it that way. He wanted his readers to wonder. It was sufficient that the injuries were known to "You, who so well know the nature of my soul." The story is not addressed to you or me, but to this man or woman who is the only person in the world that Montresor trusts. We can only guess at the nature of those injuries—if we think it is important. They have to be injuries that nobody else knew about. Montresor pretends to be oblivious of any injuries. He deliberately refers to Fortunato as his friend and his good friend on every possible occasion. He constantly addresses Fortunato himself as "my friend" and has even conditioned himself to think of him as such, even when he is plotting to kill him and is leading him to his death. Fortunato must have gotten the idea that this Montresor is a fool and a toady who will put up with anything. Montresor is acting the part of a toady throughout the tale. He keeps addressing Fortunato as "My friend" and treats him with great courtesy. It is noteworthy that he is even obsequious when he is preparing to wall his good friend up inside the little niche.

“Pass your hand,” I said, “over the wall; you cannot help feeling the nitre. Indeed, it is very damp. Once more let me implore you to return. No? Then I must positively leave you. But I must first render you all the little attentions in my power.”

How does Montresor use reverse psychology on Fortunato?

Wikipedia gives the following definition of reverse psychology.

Reverse psychology is a technique involving the advocacy of a belief or behavior that is opposite to the one desired, with the expectation that this approach will encourage the subject of the persuasion to do what actually is desired: the opposite of what is suggested. This technique relies on the psychological phenomenon of reactance, in which a person has a negative emotional reaction to being persuaded, and thus chooses the option which is being advocated against. The one being manipulated is usually unaware of what is really going on.

There are many reasons that the author has Montresor keep suggesting that they go back. Perhaps the most important reason is that it will make Montresor seem perfectly harmless to Fortunato. If Montresor keeps suggesting going back, then he can't be leading him anywhere that could be dangerous.

But Montresor knows that Fortunato could easily become suspicious. Montresor is taking him a long, long way through a network of dark passages. Why on earth should he have stored a big barrel of wine so far away from the bottom of the stairs leading down into his wine cellar. The farther they go, the more strange it must seem. The "pipe," if it existed, would contain 126 gallons of wine. That is a huge barrel. The men would have had a very difficult time carrying it or rolling it through all those catacombs. It is only because Fortunato is heavily intoxicated that he doesn't protest. Poe describes his intoxication as follows:

He turned towards me, and looked into my eves with two filmy orbs that distilled the rheum of intoxication.

Poe had to have Montresor take Fortunato all the way from the street where he first encounters him back to his palazzo, down into the wine vault, and through a series of catacombs without saying anything about the Amontillado. It would seem natural for Fortunato, who is supposedly an expert, to ask questions such as "Where did you get it?" and "How much did you pay?" But Poe didn't want to Fortunato asking questions. Fortunato knows more about Amontillado than Montresor; otherwise Montresor wouldn't be asking his advice. If Fortunato started asking questions, he would probably sense that Montresor was lying. Poe himself may have known nothing about Amontillado except that it was a gourmet sherry and was an important export from Spain.

Instead of talking about what is the object of their trip, the two men engage in chit-chat about the Masons, family crests, the nitre covering the walls of the catacombs, and other miscellaneous subjects. One of the ways Poe fills the gap with dialogue is to have Montresor keep suggesting that they go back. For example:

“Come,” I said, with decision, “we will go back; your health is precious.You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter. We will go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible. Besides, there is Luchesi—”

Poe seems to be indicating that Montresor is using what is called "reverse psychology" to keep his victim motivated. But this is also a way of filling a lot of space with dialogue. 

Fortunato might be suspected of avoiding the subject of the Amontillado because he has an ulterior motive. He is not just doing Montresor a favor. He wants to taste the wine, make sure it is genuine, and then go off by himself and find the Spanish ship that brought in a whole cargo of the gourmet wine. If Montresor bought a pipe at a bargain price, Fortunato can buy a whole shipload at an even better price and make a fortune. Therefore, he doesn't want to show too great an interest in the wine he is about to sample. Montresor knows his friendly enemy would tell him it was only ordinary sherry, whether it were or not, thus even eliminating Montresor as a competitor for the bargain. Montresor can only be so anxious to get an immediate expert opinion on his purchase of the one pipe because he would like to buy more. 

So Montresor keeps suggesting that they turn back because:

  • Poe has to fill up some space with dialogue.
  • The suggestions make Montresor look innocent. He can't be leading Fortunato into any danger if he tells him to turn back.
  • Montresor is using "reverse psychology" because this is often an effective way to get some people--especially drunks--to insist on doing the opposite. We all know of drunks who insist on driving themselves home just because their friends are trying to talk them into letting someone else drive.
  • Fortunato does not want Luchesi to learn that there is a whole shipload of Amontillado being offered at a bargain price. He believes that if he drops out, Montresor will go straight to Luchesi that same night. Then Fortunato would find himself competing with another expert and bidding up the price of the nonexistent Amontillado.
  • The suggestion to turn back is a distraction. It is beginning to seem ridiculous that they should be walking so far in these bone-filled, stygian catacombs to find a single barrel of wine. Poe is not only distracting Fortunato but distracting the reader, keeping him from asking awkward questions, such as, "Why did you move the wine-barrel way back here?" "Why didn't you just tap the barrel for a couple of bottles and bring them up to your living room, where people could sample the wine in comfort?"

What role do Montresor and Fortunato's professions play in the story?

The entire third paragraph of the narrative suggests that both Montresor and Fortunato are not noblemen but gentlemen who earn their livings by trading in expensive goods, which would include paintings, antiques, jewelry (gemmary), and gourmet wines. Venice, where the story is obviously set, has been a decaying city for centuries. Aristocratic families have been forced to sell off possessions, which could include masterpieces by great Renaissance artists, in order to survive. They would naturally want to deal with gentlemen-businessmen who were knowledgeable and discreet. In many cases, Montresor and Fortunato would not buy expensive items but would act as brokers and receive commissions. Many of the items to be sacrificed might never leave the seller's premises. The prospective purchasers would be brought to the seller's home while the family retired to another wing of their palazzo.

If Fortunato is a "quack" in some areas, this may partially explain why Montresor endures his "thousand injuries." Fortunato may call on Montresor to assist him in appraising such items as paintings and jewelry. The fact that Montresor considers Fortunato a "quack" suggests that Montresor has expertise in some things and Fortunato in others, such as wines, and that they have been interdependent on various occasions. They have a symbiotic relationship—but Fortunato may take advantage of Montresor in business dealings whenever he can. The "thousand injuries" are likely injuries in business dealings. These are known only to Montresor. If it were widely known that Fortunato had injured Montresor many times, there would be some suspicion of Montresor when Fortunato disappeared. Montresor is anxious to avoid the slightest suspicion; he wants "impunity," i.e., no suspicion at all.

Montresor is poor, and Fortunato is rich. This should also help to explain why Montresor puts up with Fortunato's "thousand injuries." Montresor can't afford to break off relations with this arrogant and selfish man. Montresor consistently acts obsequiously towards Fortunato. In one place in the narrative, Montresor reveals a great deal about the nature of their relationship.

"Come," I said, with decision, "we will go back; your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter. We will go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible. Besides, there is Luchesi—"

Montresor makes money by his relationship with Fortunato. He needs Fortunato more than Fortunato needs him. But then why kill Fortunato? Evidently Montresor has decided that he cannot put up with his behavior any longer. Besides, there may be some material advantage in eliminating a competitor.

Does Montresor have an internal conflict?

In the opening paragraph of the story, Montresor says:

At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely settled...

Poe seems to have inserted the paragraph, and these words in particular, in order to establish that Montresor did not have an internal conflict. Poe's story is clearly to be about Montresor's external conflict: the problems he has in luring Fortunato off the streets and down into his doom without being recognized or ever suspected. 

Montresor encounters Fortunato when his proposed victim is drunk and unaccompanied. Montresor has the problem of getting Fortunato to accompany him to his palazzo immediately without being recognized himself. Poe ingeniously helps his character solve the problem of avoiding being recognized by making Fortunato so conspicuous in his jester's costume, complete with a cap with jingling bells, that he attracts all the attention while Montresor in his black cloak and black mask is like a shadow. Many people will remember seeing Fortunato on the night he disappeared, but nobody will remember seeing anybody with him.

Montresor has concocted a story designed to get Fortunato to want to proceed voluntarily to Montresor's palazzo immediately. Montresor himself acts as if he is in a big hurry. Why? He has bought a big cask of Amontillado sherry and had it delivered to his palazzo. It is already bought, paid for, and delivered. Why is it so important that it should be judged by a connoisseur right away? This is the finely honed falsehood Montresor uses:

I said to him—“My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking to-day. But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts.”
“How?” said he. “Amontillado, A pipe? Impossible! And in the middle of the carnival!”
“I have my doubts,” I replied; “and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter. You were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain.”
“Amontillado!”
“As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchesi. If any one has a critical turn it is he. He will tell me—”

What incites Fortunato, as Montresor anticipated, is the idea of a bargain. A pipe of wine contains 126 gallons. Fortunato assumes that Montresor would like to buy more than one pipe and make a bigger profit. There is no question that Montresor would want 126 gallons of sherry for his private consumption. That would be 500 quart bottles. It would take him years to drink that much—and he apparently wants to buy even more! Fortunato visualizes a recently arrived ship from Barcelona carrying a full cargo of Amontillado. He is a rich man. He could buy the whole cargo and make a fortune. This is the idea Montresor's story is intended to plant in his mind.

But why should Fortunato want to go to Montresor's palazzo at this late hour, when he is drunk, inadequately dressed, and has a bad cold? Why wouldn't he beg off with some excuse and go directly to find the Spanish ship and sample the wine on board? The answer is that Montresor has told him he is on his way to see Luchesi. If Fortunato should put Montresor off, then Montresor would go straight to Luchesi, and Fortunato would have a competitor in bidding for the cargo of wine. Montresor is a poor man and could only afford to buy another one or two pipes, but Luchesi, presumably, is capable of buying an entire cargo. So Montresor's ploy succeeds. Fortunato says:

“Let us go, nevertheless. The cold is merely nothing. Amontillado! You have been imposed upon. And as for Luchesi, he cannot distinguish Sherry from Amontillado.”
Thus speaking, Fortunato possessed himself of my arm; and putting on a mask of black silk and drawing a roquelaire closely about my person,I suffered him to hurry me to my palazzo.

Fortunato is wearing a "tight-fitting" costume. He is obviously not armed. But Montresor has a rapier under his cloak. Once he gets Fortunato down the stairs into his wine vaults, his victim is at his mercy. He can kill him any time he wants—but he would like to lead him all the way to the niche where the old chains are fastened to the granite wall. That would save him the trouble of dragging a body through the catacombs. Once he entices Fortunato to the spot where he can seal him behind a stone wall—for which he has the materials already prepared—his conflict is resolved and the story is nearly at an end. The whole story has been about an external conflict. Poe puts any doubts, fears, misgivings, etc., behind Montresor with the words, "At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely settled—but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk"—so that Poe does not have to deal with an internal conflict and an external conflict at the same time.

What is the significance of Montresor's coat of arms and motto?

Fortunato appears to be acting disingenuously when he asks Montresor about his family coat of arms and motto. He regards Montresor as a member of a lower class then himself and probably has asked many such disingenuous questions during their relationship with the sole intention of hurting Montresor's feelings. He apparently believes that Montresor has no coat of arms or motto. Montresor has been lying to Fortunato consistently since they meet on the street, so there is no reason to think he is telling the truth when he describes his coat of arms.

A huge human foot in gold—such a design on a shield would seem bizarre, surrealistic, or comical. Poe probably wanted the reader to realize that Montresor was only kidding Fortunato. The motto, Nemo me impune lacessit, meaning "Nobody injures me with impunity," is, of course, appropriate, but it seems almost too appropriate. Montresor must be taking advantage of the fact that Fortunato is drunk to make the man look like a fool. Montresor is telling him what his coat of arms and motto would be if he had a coat of arms and a motto. Fortunato is not only drunk but probably does not even understand Latin, so it is especially ironic that he answers, "Good!" when Montresor is virtually predicting what is soon going to happen to him.

Montresor himself has been doing a little drinking along with Fortunato, so his rather odd behavior, including showing Fortunato his trowel and claiming to be a Mason, is understandable. Also Montresor has been under pressure to get Fortunato off the street and down below; and now he is experiencing relief because he knows he has his victim in his power. Montresor has a rapier concealed under his cloak. He can kill the unarmed Fortunato any time he wants—although it would be preferable to lead him to the site when he intends to wall him up.