Inferring Characterization: “The Cask of Amontillado” includes two characters: Montresor and Fortunato. Little is made explicit about the two except for Montresor’s desire for revenge and Fortunato’s enthusiasm for wine. Understanding the two characters and their development in the story requires readers to infer details about each character through his appearance, actions, and dialogue.
- For discussion: What does the story reveal about Montresor? What are his motivations? (How) Do his motivations or his emotional states change as the story progresses?
- For discussion: What does the story reveal about Fortunato? How does his attitude shift over the course of the story? Does he deserve Montresor’s ire?
- For discussion: Which character is the protagonist and which character is the antagonist? To what extent do the characters function as foils in the story?
Interpreting Irony: “The Cask of Amontillado” relies on dramatic irony and verbal irony as primary devices in the story. Dramatic irony is developed at the beginning of the story: the audience knows that Montresor is out for revenge and that Fortunato’s trip into the catacombs will not end well. The story is also laced with verbal irony such as false invitations from Montresor to leave the catacombs, his sarcastic toast to Fortunato’s long life, and a possibly fabricated coat of arms and motto. Engage students in a discussion about how irony develops mood and tone in the story.
- For discussion: How does dramatic irony function in the story? What information does the audience have that Fortunato doesn’t?
- For discussion: Where does verbal irony occur in the story? When do characters say the opposite of what they mean?
- For discussion: How is Montresor’s toast to Fortunato’s long life ironic? What do you think Montresor means by this toast to Fortunato?
- For discussion: How does the dramatic irony develop mood and atmosphere in the story?
- For discussion: How does verbal irony develop tone in the story? How does it contribute to the reliability of Montresor as a narrator?
Defining Gothic Literature as a Genre: Edgar Allan Poe was a prominent writer of gothic fiction. Many critics consider “The Cask of Amontillado” to be a classic example of the genre. Work with students to study the tropes of the gothic genre. Discuss with students how those tropes are enacted in the story.
- For discussion: What shameful or taboo elements of human nature are seen in the story? What emotions does the story provoke?
- For discussion: Given Poe’s possible motivation for writing his story—as a means of revenge against a rival author—why would he choose this genre or literary tradition in which to compose this story?
- For discussion: How does the setting of the catacombs affect the development of suspense and mood in the story?
- For discussion: Suspense, horror, and the macabre are largely gothic elements. When do you feel suspense and horror while reading? In what ways is the murder of Fortunato representative of the tropes of gothic fiction?
Analyzing How Symbolism Develops Characterization and Theme: In a story as short as “The Cask of Amontillado,” physical objects and settings take on heightened importance. For example, the catacombs, the costumes Montresor and Fortunato wear, the wine, the act of entombing Fortunato, and Montresor’s coat of arms are critical symbols in the text.
- For discussion: To what extent do the catacombs symbolize the psychological experiences of Montresor and Fortunato? How do the bones therein develop mood and suspense in the story?
- For discussion: Describe the elements that comprise the Montresor family’s coat of arms. How does the coat of arms highlight themes present in the text?
- For discussion: What are Montresor and Fortunato wearing? How do the elements of their costumes develop...
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