illustration of Fortunato standing in motley behind a mostly completed brick wall with a skull superimposed on the wall where his face should be

The Cask of Amontillado

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Is the proximity of the words 'promiscuously' and 'ejaculated' in "The Cask of Amontillado" coincidental?

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There are words in language which, while they have sexual denotations--especially in this sexually-orientated modern culture--also have other meanings.  Such a word as "pregnant" is used most often to denote the physical development of a baby in a woman's womb.  However, one can refer to a statement as being pregnant with meaning.  Here the definition is that the statement is highly significant.

Now, let us examine the words from "The Cask of Amontillado" within their context for meaning, keeping in mind, also, that this is NOT a modern story, having been published in 1846.  As Montesor leads his victim farther into the catacombs, he describes this area:

Three sides of this interior crypt were still ornamented in this manner.  From the fourth the bones had been thrown down, and lay promiscuously upon the earth, forming at one point a mound of some size.

As the depth of recess gets darker, the light does not help them to see.  In order to distract Fortunato, Montesor makes reference to Fortunato's rival, Luchesi, angering his victim.  Montesor fetters Fortunato to the granite wall, saying,

'Pass you hand,' I said, 'over the wall; you cannot help feeling the niter.  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.'

Confused by Montesor's tettering him to the wall while at the same time acting concerned for his health, and then saying he must leave, Fortunato attempts to distract Montesor and redirect him to taking him to the wine cask, the reason for their entering the catacombs:

'The Amontillado!' ejaculated my friend, not yet recovered from his astonishment.

Thus, the reader can perceive that within the context of Poe's story, promiscuously denotes "involving indiscriminate mingling"--the bones were scattered about--and ejaculated denotes "uttered suddenly and briefly; exclaimed."  (That this word follows a quotation leaves no doubt as to its meaning.)

Nevertheless, there are always the connotations of words to consider.  And, since Montesor is "consumed by the lust of hate" as D.H. Lawrence (Studies in Classic American Literature) comments, there may have been some intention on Poe's part to use words with sexual overtones to suggest this hatred that is lustful, or so passionate that it is overmastering in its desire.

So, you may wish to research D. H. Lawrence who theorized that all drives of men and women emanated from sexual desire and expression.  An interesting angle to this story, indeed.

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