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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Explain the meaning of "My heart grew sick - on account of the dampness of the catacombs" in "The Cask of Amontillado".

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Montresor has planned the perfect murder.  As he carries out his plot to kill Fortunato, Montresor shows no emotion except an undercurrent of sarcasm.  In"The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe, irony abounds.  

As Montresor takes the reader through the steps toward the death of Fortunato, his attitude heightens the suspense.  He has been insulted by this drunken fool, and he will gain his revenge.  

When Montresor reaches the end of the catacombs,  he easily places Fortunato in the shackles.  Fortunato has had too much to drink. Initially, he does not understand what is happening to him.

Ironically and sarcastically, Montresor tells Fortunato to run his hand over the damp wall of the corner where he is chained.  

"Once more let me implore you to return.  No? Then I must positively leave you.  But I must first render you all of the little attention in my power.'

This was just another jab at Fortunato who does not understand what is going on with him. He still is waiting to see the amontillado.

Montresor has prepared for everything.  Hidden under a pile of bones are his mortar, stones, and trowel. 

Montresor begins his building of the wall that will forever end the appearance of Fortunato.  

Fortunato begins to yell and scream.  Montresor begins to have some fear that he may need to use his sword. He begins to yell back at Fortunato.  

For a time, Montresor hears nothing from Fortunato.  He steadily builds the wall.  Then Fortunato begins to laugh in an insane tone.  Fortunato thinks this may be a joke.  He says that it is time for him to go  to meet his wife. 

Fortunato yells at him: 'For the love of God , Montresor."

Monstresor answers back: 'Yes, for the love of God.' 

Finally, all that Montresor can hear are the bells on Forunato's jester's cap.  

The moment of guilt or remorse

For some reason, Montresor has a moment of remorse.  He states that his heart grew sick.  Then the author supplies a long dash.... which allows Montresor to recover his composure.  Montresor recovers from his thrust of conscience.  He attributes it to the damp in the catacombs.  

It is obvious that for a moment he feels a twinge of guilt and possibly pity for his actions and the eventual murder of Fortunato.  He hears this pathetic creature chained with his wrists and waist to a dank, dismal place forever. He is shaking his head possibly finally coming to his senses and realizing that this is the end.   This grasps Montresor's  soul momentarily. 

He forced the last stone in the position.  This is another indication that when Montresor came to the end, he had the choice to stop. Yet, he chose to push the stone in. It did not go in easily. 

When Montresor lets the reader know that this event happened fifty years before,  he gives a blessing to Fortunato of "May he rest in peace." It becomes apparent that Montresor has some feelings of remorse since he asks God to give Fortunato peace in his grave.  

In addition, Montresor may be asking for this same peace that he asks for Fortunato.  This peace may be needed for his soul as well after committing the perfect murder. 

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In "The Cask of Amontillado," the narrator states: "My heart grew sick; it was the dampness of the catacombs that made it so." Do you believe him?

This is an excellent question. Let us remember that this quote comes at the very end of the story, when Montresor has shut his enemy up and it appears Fortunato has already died because Montresor is unable to provoke any response from him behind the brick wall he has just constructed. What is curious about this quote is the way that it seems to point towards the lack of self-knowledge of the narrator, who not only deceives us, but deceives himself. Let us consider the quote again:

My heart grew sick--on account of the dampness of the catacombs.

The dash that follows the proclamation that his heart grew sick is then quickly filled by a justification to explain the reason for his feeling. Yet given what Montresor has just done and the silence that emerges from Fortunato, we as readers can actually come to rather a different conclusion. As inhumane as Montresor presents himself as being, this quote strongly suggests that he does have sympathy and emotions, and that he is actually shocked by what he has done to Fortunato. However, he lacks the perception to accept what his emotions are telling him and seeks an excuse to justify what he is experiencing.

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