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The Cask of Amontillado: A Guide to Poe's Famous Work

Updated by Jim Deckebach

In November 1846, Edgar Allan Poe published the short story "The Cask of Amontillado." It is a horror tale that appeared for the first time in Godey's Lady's Book. The story centers around wine, a wine cellar, and the characters of Montresor and Fortunato. Like much of Poe's work, it is a tale with a dark subject. It is told to the reader in a direct manner that Poe was known for. This allows the reader to feel horror and fear regarding what is about to happen as well as experience the event from the killer's point of view. The story, which takes place during the carnival season, delves deeply into human darkness and explores jealousy, plotted revenge, and irony.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Montresor, a French aristocrat who complains about a "friend" by the name of Fortunato. The name Fortunato means fortunate, which is ironic considering that the character ultimately is unfortunate in both his friendship with Montresor and his fate. It begins with the line, "The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge." Immediately, this lets the reader know that Montresor has felt injured or slighted by Fortunato many times, but for the most recent perceived insult, he would seek revenge. As a character, Montresor feels he is completely justified in his actions. Readers are not told directly what insult Montressor felt Fortunato delivered; it is left for the reader to determine on their own what this was and why it moved the main character to plot a murder.

It is apparent that the French Montresor had minimal respect for Italians such as Fortunato. He felt they had little knowledge except when it came to wine. "In painting and gemmary, Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack, but in the matter of old wines, he was sincere," he says. It is with this belief that Montressor's plan to get rid of Fortunato takes shape.

When he finds Fortunato amid the carnival festivities, the man is dressed as a court jester. This is ironic, as he is about to play the fool to Montresor's plans. These plans are easily set into motion when he tells Fortunato about a questionable cask of vintage wine called Amontillado, which is a type of dry, brown sherry from Spain, that he has obtained. Fortunato is inebriated from his time at the carnival, and this, along with his obvious ego regarding his knowledge about wine, is exploited to lure him to the cellar where the questionable Amontillado is located. Montresor manipulates Fortunato by saying that he'll ask a third party, Luchesi, to accompany him into the catacombs where the Amontillado is supposedly being kept instead; Montresor's implication is that Luchesi's knowledge is on par with Fortunato's. It is vanity and ego that leads Fortunato to insist that he be the one to judge the wine, as he believes Luchesi is less knowledgeable than he. In doing so, he ironically is also insisting on being led to his fate.

On the journey deep into Montresor's vault, he is seemingly undisturbed by his intended actions as he feigns concern over Fortunato's health and pops the cork on another bottle of wine, thus ensuring that his plan can easily be carried out. The catacombs are lined with the bodies of Montresor's deceased family. This morbid walk deep into the catacombs visually represents Fortunato's walk toward his personal hell and death. Upon reaching the crypt, Montresor easily secures his victim and begins to seal him in. Although his intoxication begins to wear off, and despite moments of obvious panic, Fortunato attempts to pass off his incarceration as a joke to laugh at later over the amontillado. But Montresor continues building the wall, sealing his former friend in to die over a perceived insult. The story is told by Montresor 50 years after the crime; he confesses to placing the bones in the catacombs against the newly erected wall, where they remain undisturbed after all of these years. Even as he confesses his actions, the reader can assume he still does not feel remorse or guilt, as he ends with "In pace requiescat!": "May he rest in peace" in Latin.

 
 

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