The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe

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Overview

In Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Cask of Amontillado," Montresor describes his revenge against a man named Fortunato, who did him "a thousand injuries."

  • During Carnival, Montresor tells Fortunato that he has obtained some rare Amontillado wine and invites him back to his cellar to appraise it.

  • After luring a drunk Fortunato into his family's catacombs, Montresor chains him to a wall and  bricks up the opening. Fortunato screams for release, but Montresor only mocks him.

  • Fortunato’s body remains undiscovered for fifty years.

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Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Told in the first person by an Italian aristocrat, “The Cask of Amontillado” engages the reader by making him or her a confidant to Montresor’s macabre tale of revenge. The victim is Fortunato, who, the narrator claims, gave him a thousand injuries that he endured patiently, but when Fortunato dared insult him, he vowed revenge. It must be a perfect revenge, one in which Fortunato will know fully what is happening to him and in which Montresor will be forever undetected. To accomplish it, Montresor waits until carnival season, a time of “supreme madness,” when Fortunato, already half-drunk and costumed as a jester, is particularly vulnerable. Montresor then informs him that he has purchased a pipe of Amontillado wine but is not sure he has gotten the genuine article. He should, he says, have consulted Fortunato, who prides himself on being an expert on wine, adding that because Fortunato is engaged, he will go instead to Luchesi. Knowing his victim’s vanity, Montresor baits him by saying that some fools argue that Luchesi’s taste is as fine as Fortunato’s. The latter is hooked, and Montresor conducts him to his empty palazzo and leads him down into the family catacombs, all the while plying him with drink. Through underground corridors with piles of skeletons alternating with wine casks, Montresor leads Fortunato, whose jester’s bells jingle grotesquely in the funereal atmosphere. In the deepest crypt there is a small recess, and there Montresor chains Fortunato to a pair of iron staples and then begins to lay a wall of stone and mortar, with which he buries his enemy alive. While he does so, he relishes the mental torment of his victim, whom he then leaves alone in the dark, waiting in terror for his death.

Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“The Cask of Amontillado” is one of the clearest examples of Poe’s theory of the unity of the short story, for every detail in the story contributes to the overall ironic effect. The plot is relatively simple. Montresor seeks revenge on Fortunato for some unspecified insult by luring him down into his family vaults to inspect some wine he has purchased. However, Montresor’s plot to maneuver Fortunato to where he can wall him up alive is anything but straightforward. In fact, from the very beginning, every action and bit of dialogue is characterized as being just the opposite of what is explicitly stated.

The action takes place during carnival season, a sort of Mardi Gras when everyone is in masquerade and thus appearing as something they are not. Montresor makes sure that his servants will not be at home to hinder his plot by giving them explicit orders not to leave, and he makes sure that Fortunato will follow him into the wine cellar by playing on his pride and by urging him not to go. Every time Montresor urges Fortunato to turn back for his health’s sake, he succeeds in drawing him further into the snares of his revenge plot.

Moreover, the fact that Montresor knows how his plot is going to end makes it possible for him to play little ironic tricks on Fortunato. For example, when Fortunato says he will not die of a cough, Montresor knowingly replies, “True, true.” When Fortunato drinks a toast to the dead lying in the catacombs around them, Montresor ironically drinks to Fortunato’s long life. When Fortunato makes a gesture indicating that he is a member of the secret society of Masons, Montresor claims that he is also and proves it by revealing a trowel, the...

(The entire section is 4,018 words.)