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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Fortunato's actions and fate in "The Cask of Amontillado"

Summary:

In "The Cask of Amontillado," Fortunato's fate is sealed by his arrogance and love for fine wine. He follows Montresor into the catacombs, lured by the promise of a rare Amontillado. Fortunato's trust in Montresor leads to his demise as Montresor chains him to a wall and entombs him alive.

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What did Fortunato do to the narrator in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

In “The Cask of Amontillado,” it is unclear what Fortunato did to the narrator. The narrator, Montresor, tells us that he plans to kill his rival, Fortunato, as revenge for insults and injuries. Montresor does not specify the nature of these alleged offenses. Poe’s intentional ambiguity leaves us readers to draw our own conclusions as to why Montresor so passionately hates Fortunato.

As he does in many of his other tales, Poe tells this story from the point of view of an unreliable narrator. It is tricky to determine what, if anything, Fortunato did to Montresor to make him angry enough to commit homicide.

We know that Montresor and Fortunato are both wine connoisseurs. Montresor tells us that Fortunato is arrogant and has an inflated ego. If we choose to believe Montresor, then given these clues, one possible explanation for Montresor’s rage is that Fortunato embarrassed him in front of other connoisseurs or challenged his wine expertise. For a sane person, this would not be reason enough to kill someone, but we are not certain of Montresor’s sanity.

It is also entirely possible that Fortunato did nothing to Montresor. When the two meet at the carnival, Fortunato is in good spirits and seems happy to see Montresor. This could be because he is intoxicated, or it could be because he does not have any ill will towards Montresor. Perhaps Montresor is simply insane, and these supposed insults and injuries were only perceived.

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What is Fortunato guilty of in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Based on Fortunato's behavior in the story, I would think that he is guilty of little more than being an arrogant jerk. Montresor begins the story by explaining that he had borne a "thousand injuries" from Fortunato but that, "when [Fortunato] ventured upon insult," Montresor vowed to get revenge. This means that the very worst thing that Fortunato did to Montresor was to insult him in some way because "insult," to Montresor, was the straw that broke the camel's back, the thing that sent him over the edge.

What could those "thousand injuries" that came before, but were not enough to provoke Montresor to violence, have been? Perhaps Fortunato embarrassed Montresor in public with some snide or arrogant remark? From his statements about Luchesi, it is clear that Fortunato doesn't scruple to speak disrespectfully of others in public. He says that Luchesi, another prominent wine expert, "cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry."

Further, Fortunato laughs aloud when he offers some sign of the masons, a secret society at that time, because Montresor's failure to understand the signal proves that he is not a member. Fortunato's eyes fill with a "fierce light" in this moment, as he seems to take pride and pleasure in the inferiority of Montresor's social connections and status. He's clearly not a nice guy, but he also doesn't seem to be guilty of any slight that justifies his death.

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How does Fortunato die in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

In "The Cask of Amontillado," Montresor tells his revenge story of how he murdered his "friend" Fortunato by entombing him inside his family's extensive catacombs. Montresor vaguely informs the reader that Fortunato has caused him a "thousand injuries" and outlines how he plans to enact the perfect revenge. Montresor then approaches the unsuspecting Fortunato during carnival and tells him that he plans on asking another man, Luchesi, to authenticate a pipe of what he believes is Amontillado wine. Montresor knows that Fortunato considers himself a connoisseur of wines and will not pass on the opportunity to display his knowledge. Fortunato falls for Montresor's trap by dismissing Luchesi's expertise and offering to authenticate the rare wine. Already drunk, Fortunato proceeds to follow Montresor into his family's vaults and continues to drink during their journey, which further impairs his thinking.

Once Fortunato reaches the back wall of the catacombs, Montresor shackles him inside a recess and begins to wall him in with stone and mortar. Montresor thus successfully entombs Fortunato alive and leaves him in the catacombs to die. Fortunato more than likely dies of asphyxiation or starvation behind the wall that Montresor has erected. After killing Fortunato, Montresor keeps his secret for fifty years and does not tell a soul. Montresor gets away with murder, and Fortunato's skeleton remains undiscovered inside the wall of the catacombs.

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What are Fortunato's offenses against Montresor in The Cask of Amontillado?

Readers are never given a specific answer to this question. The opening paragraph of the story explains to readers that Montresor has apparently tolerated a thousand injuries from Fortunato. Montresor draws the line at insults. When Fortunato insulted him, Montresor vowed revenge.

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

It must have been some insult for Montresor to kill Fortunato on account of it. The story doesn't tell readers what exactly the infraction was, allowing for countless possibilities. We begin thinking of all kinds of possible insults in all kinds of various situations. Then there is always the possibility that the insult was nothing more than a light tease, and Montresor is just the kind of person that can't take a joke. It's also conceivably possible that Montresor is a sociopath, psychopath, and serial killer, and he's just looking for the smallest excuse to identify his next victim. If the story had given us a clear-cut answer, then readers wouldn't get to endlessly debate about Montresor's character.

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What are Fortunato's offenses against Montresor in The Cask of Amontillado?

We do not actually know, with any certainty, what crimes Fortunato has committed against Montresor.  In the first line of the story, Montresor claims that Fortunato has injured him a "thousand" times, and when Fortunato, at last, "insult[ed]" him, Montresor had finally had enough.  Evidently, whatever injuries Montresor has sustained at the hands of Fortunato, they had more to do with wounding his pride than his person.  When Montresor speaks to Fortunato about confirming that a pipe of wine he recently, hastily, purchased is, indeed, Amontillado, Fortunato seems to enjoy the idea that Montresor has made a mistake.  He exclaims, "'Amontillado?  A pipe?  Impossible!'"  Despite his apparent illness, Fortunato insists that he accompany Montresor into his vaults to see this wine.  Even on the way to see this alleged wine, he insults Montresor by insisting that he could not possibly be a Freemason.  Therefore, it seems likely that Fortunato's only crimes are being a bit mean-spirited and wounding Montresor's pride.

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What is Fortunato an expert in, in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Fortunato, as Montresor concedes, is an expert judge of wine. But Montresor does not really want Fortunato to judge the Amontillado because it doesn't really exist. Montresor uses Fortunato's pride in his connoisseurship to lure him into the catacombs, where he can chain him to the rock wall and leave him to die an agonizing death. The fact that Fortunato is an expert judge of wine makes it plausible that Montresor should seek him out to judge a cask of Amontillado he supposedly acquired at a bargain price.

Even if the Amontillado had really existed, and even though Montresor regards Fortunato as an expert judge, Montresor knows exactly what Fortunato would be thinking and planning. Fortunato would make a big show of smelling and tasting the wine and finally shake his head and tell Montresor it was only ordinary sherry. Fortunato knows that Montresor, a poor man, would only have bought a cask containing 125 gallons of Amontillado because it was a "bargain" and he hoped to resell it at a profit. Here are the most significant parts of Montresor's story:

“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....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—”

This is calculated to make Fortunato believe that Montresor plans to buy more of the Amontillado if only he can be assured it is genuine. If genuine, it is a bargain; if not, it is not worth buying more. Fortunato knows that Luchesi would also be very interested in what appears to be a newly arrived cargo of Amontillado being sold off at bargain prices, probably because it is the height of the carnival season and nobody, including Fortunato, is doing business. He has to go to Montresor's palazzo that very night to prevent him from going to Luchesi, who is probably rich enough to buy up the whole cargo, as Fortunato intends to do himself. The fact that he is an expert does not mean that he is trustworthy. He is thinking of discouraging Montresor from buying any more of the nonexistent Amontillado by judging it to be bogus. Then he will have the field all to himself. He can get an even greater bargain because he is rich enough to take the entire cargo.

Why doesn't he question Montresor about this Amontillado? Where did he get it? How much did he pay? He doesn't want to show too much interest. That would only make Montresor guess his true intentions. (Montresor doesn't have to guess. He knows his man. He has been injured by him a thousand times, mostly in business dealings of this sort, no doubt. He knows Fortunato would try to cheat him and then laugh about it as an excellent jest.) Fortunato wants Montresor to think that he is just doing him a big favor by tasting his wine--but the discriminating reader should understand that Fortunato is not the type of man to go out of his way to do such a favor when he is having fun carousing in the streets, when he is inadequately dressed to go into a damp underground wine cellar, and when he has a bad cold. His only interest is in making a large amount of money, and he has to keep Luchesi from hearing about the bargain-priced Amontillado. He can't put Montresor off for the night because Montresor is obviously in a hurry to buy more of the Amontillado before word gets around that it is available at a bargain price. If Fortunato doesn't go to Montresor's palazzo that very night, then Montresor will go straight to Luchesi.

Fortunato doesn't really need to taste Montresor's (nonexistent) Amontillado. He could easily find the ship bearing the cargo and taste the wine directly from one or two of the casks on board (if such a ship and such a cargo existed), But if he makes up an excuse for not accompanying Montresor to his palazzo, Montresor will go to Luchesi. Montresor has thought out his entrapment scheme very thoroughly. He twice pretends to believe that Fortunato has an "engagement." He gets the information he wants on his second try.

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

I have no engagement;—come.”

Fortunato is not expected at home or anywhere else. He won't be missed until sometime tomorrow at the earliest. Montresor wants to leave a cold trail. Everybody is drunk. They may remember seeing Fortunato that night, but they won't remember in which direction he was walking or a shadowy companion wearing a black cloak and a black mask.

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What is Fortunato an expert in, in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Fortunato prides himself on being a wine connoisseur. However, while he is deserving of respect on this connoisseurship in wine, Fortunato, Montresor observes, is a "quack" in the knowledge of the arts. This pride of Fortunato and the shortcomings of the man are both upon which Montresor works his scheme to lure Fortunato into his family catacombs on the pretext of tasting the newly-acquired Amontillado. 

That Fortunato is rather foolish is indicated by the harlequin costume which he wears during the Carnival. With great irony, Montresor greets him and repeatedly shakes his hand, "My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking today!" Then, Montresor plays upon the intense interest in wine of Fortunato by saying that he has just received a large cask of "what passes for Amontillado (a variety of sherry), and I have my doubts....And I must satisfy them." As if this will not entice Fortunato to accompany him, Montresor acts as though he does not need the connoiseur,

"As you are engaged. I am on my way to Luchesi. If anyone has a critical turn it is he. He will tell me--"

Pride dominates Fortunato, who interjects, "Luchesi cannot tell Amontillado from sherry." He insists that he accompany Montresor and falls into the subtle trap.

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What crime did Fortunato commit in The Cask of Amontillado?

As Poe's "The Cask of Amantillado" begins, Montressor says:

THE THOUSAND INJURIES of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult.

During the story, however, Montressor neither divulges any of the injuries nor the insult.  Since Montressor is Italian and has a coat of arms whose symbol and motto are symbolic of revenge, the reader must assume that Montressor comes from an honor culture which prides itself on revenge in response to any individual or familial insults.  The crime could have been something as trivial as a breech of manners; regardless, it is so negligible that Fortunato never suspects any offense, even when he finally realizes his doom.

Just as Iago never gives a good enough reason to take revenge on Othello, so too does Montressor never divulge his motivation.  In this way, he is a vice character who prides himself on duping and taking advantage against his supposed enemies purely out of spite.  It's a kind of game.

The reader must admit that Fortunato's crime during the story is drunkenness and gullibility.  He arrives at Montressor's catacombs inebriated and with a bad cough.  To venture far into the vaults, given the nitre, is foolish.  In this way, he puts his health in jeopardy.

His main crime is materialism: he must have the amontillado.  It is a rare possession that he, a connoisseur, must have, at all costs.  To put his life in danger for the sake of a vintage wine violates the cardinal sins of pride and envy.

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What crime did Fortunato commit in The Cask of Amontillado?

I do not think there is any way to say what Fortunato did to Montresor except to guess based on your own feelings about what might make you mad enough to do this.

Montresor never tells us what Fortunato has done to make him mad.  He only says that there were a "thousand injuries."  I do not think that any of the "injuries" could possibly have been very bad.  The reason that I say this is that Fortunato had no idea that Montresor hated him.  So it could not be, for example, that Fortunato had stolen Montresor's wife or anything big like that.

So I think maybe Fortunato hurt Montresor's feelings.  Maybe he had said bad things about the quality of Montresor's wine?  That might make the "punishment" be sort of poetic justice.

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