The Cask of Amontillado. (Edgar Allan Poe)

The cask of amontillado.

Characters:

Montresor  (narrator): He wants to take revenge on one of his friends, Fortunato, because of an insult that resulted harming for him. He elaborates a whole plan on how to drive Fortunato into madness and then killing him: burying him alive.

Fortunato: He’s a noble and respected man, connoisseur of wines. He’s an old friend of Montresor eventhough he has injured and also insulted him in the past. He becomes a victim of Montresor’s madness and revenge.

 

 

Plot summary

Montresor tells the story of the day that he took his revenge on Fortunato, a fellow nobleman, to an unspecified person who knows him very well. Angry over some unspecified insult, he plots to murder his friend during Carnival when the man is drunk, dizzy, and wearing a jester‘s motley.

He baits Fortunato by telling him he has obtained what he believes to be a pipe (about 130 gallons, 492 litres) of a rare vintage of Amontillado. He claims he wants his friend’s expert opinion on the subject. Fortunato goes with Montresor to the wine cellars of the latter’s palazzo, where they wander in the catacombs. Montresor offers wine (first Medoc, then De Grave) to Fortunato. At one point, Fortunato makes an elaborate, grotesque gesture with an upraised wine bottle. When Montresor appears not to recognize the gesture, Fortunato asks, “You are not of the masons?” Montresor says he is, and when Fortunato, disbelieving, requests a sign, Montresor displays a trowel he had been hiding.

Montresor warns Fortunato, who has a bad cough, of the damp, and suggests they go back; Fortunato insists on continuing, claiming that “[he] shall not die of a cough.” During their walk, Montresor mentions his family coat of arms: a golden foot in a blue background crushing a snake whose fangs are embedded in the foot’s heel, with the motto Nemo me impune lacessit (“No one insults me with impunity”). When they come to a niche, Montresor tells his victim that the Amontillado is within. Fortunato enters and, drunk and unsuspecting, does not resist as Montresor quickly chains him to the wall. Montresor then declares that, since Fortunato won’t go back, he must “positively leave [him]”.

Montresor walls up the niche, entombing his friend alive. At first, Fortunato, who sobers up faster than Montresor anticipated he would, shakes the chains, trying to escape. Fortunato then screams for help, but Montresor mocks his cries, knowing nobody can hear them. Fortunato laughs weakly and tries to pretend that he is the subject of a joke and that people will be waiting for him (including the Lady Fortunato). As the murderer finishes the topmost row of stones, Fortunato wails, “For the love of God, Montresor!” Montresor replies, “Yes, for the love of God!” He listens for a reply but hears only the jester’s bells ringing. Before placing the last stone, he drops a burning torch through the gap. He claims that he feels sick at heart, but dismisses this reaction as an effect of the dampness of the catacombs.

In the last few sentences, Montresor reveals that in the 50 years since that night, he has never been caught, and Fortunato’s body still hangs from its chains in the niche where he left it. The murderer concludes: Requiescat In Pace! (“May he rest in peace!”).

 

 

Story analysis

Although the subject matter of Poe’s story is a murder, “The Cask of Amontillado” is not a tale of detection like “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” or “The Purloined Letter”; there is no investigation of Montresor’s crime and the criminal himself explains how he committed the murder. The mystery in “The Cask of Amontillado” is in Montresor’s motive for murder. Without a detective in the story, it is up to the reader to solve the mystery.

Montresor never specifies his motive beyond the vague “thousand injuries” to which he refers. Many commentators conclude that, lacking significant reason, Montresor must be insane, though even this is questionable because of the intricate details of the plot.

Though Fortunato is presented as a connoisseur of fine wine, Cecil L. Moffitt of Texas Christian University argues that his actions in the story make that assumption questionable. For example, Fortunato comments on another nobleman being unable to distinguish Amontillado from Sherry when Amontillado is in fact a type of Sherry, and treats De Grave, an expensive French wine, with very little regard by drinking it in a single gulp. Moffitt also states that a true wine connoisseur would never sample wine while intoxicated and describes Fortunato as merely an alcoholic. Moffitt also suggests that some people might feel Fortunato deserved to be buried alive for wasting a bottle of fine wine.

Poe may have known bricklaying through personal experience. Many periods in Poe’s life lack significant biographical details, including what he did after leaving the Southern Literary Messenger in 1837. Poe biographer John H. Ingram wrote to Sarah Helen Whitman that someone named “Allen” said that Poe worked “in the brickyard ‘late in the fall of 1834′”. This source has been identified as Robert T. P. Allen, a fellow West Point student during Poe’s time there.

 

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