The Cask of Amontillado




Edgar Allan Poe has distinguished himself as one of the most prolific writers in history. Most of his works mainly revolved around mystery, which set him apart from other writers of his time (19th century) who mainly concentrated on romantic poems and literature. One of the works that propelled Edgar to national and international limelight is “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846).

“The Cask of Amontillado” is set during the carnival season. The story starts around dusk one evening in an unnamed European city. However, the location changes quickly from the lighthearted activities that are associated with the festive season to the dark and damp catacombs in the underground graveyard that serves to establish the story’s sinister atmosphere. In addition, the introduction of graveyard into the picture establishes the idea that death or murder lurks ahead for one or both characters. It, therefore, goes without saying that the literary work would change entirely in case the setting was to be changed. For example, if the entire setting were in a church, it would only be logical to assume that there would be some confession and forgiveness. In addition, if the story were to be based entirely in the place where Montresor met Fortunato, it is likely that the entire story would be about festivities and incorporate a carnival mood.

“The Cask of Amontillado” is a story of revenge told in first person. The narrator has been insulted by Fortunato to the extent that he never forgave him. He is seeking revenge and wants to carry it out in a manner that does not place him at risk (Poe, 1946). On this day, he meets Fortunato during carnival periods. Fortunato is already extremely drunk and is wearing jester clothes. The narrator informs Fortunato that he has a rare brand of wine that is known as Amontillado. Initially, Fortunato is not interested in tasting it, but gets eager to do it once the narrator mentions that he will have Fortunato’s rival Luchesi test its authenticity. In essence, the narrator and Fortunato head to the narrator’s underground graveyard. Apparently, this is the place where Montresor stores his brandy or wines. He leads Fortunato deeper into the catacomb while still giving him more alcohol, thereby getting him even drunker. Fortunato coughs a number of times, which triggers the narrator to suggest that he goes back rather than go down among the damp crypts. However, Fortunato cannot hear any of it as he has his thoughts (and speech) fixed on the Amontillado. Eventually, Fortunato gets into a man-sized hole that forms part of a nasty crypt’s wall. In this instance, the narrator shackles Fortunato to the wall and starts filling in the openings of the hole using bricks, thereby trapping Fortunato in the hole (Poe, 1946). Once he has only one brick left, he tortures Fortunato psychologically until the later begs for mercy. It is at this time that Fortunato calls out the narrator’s name “Montresor”. After this Montresor completes the job by putting in the last brick and leaves him to die. The narrator stated that the revenge was carried out over half a century ago, and no one has ever found out (Poe, 1946).

As much as the story mentions several characters, its key focus lies on Montresor and Fortunato. When they meet during the carnival season, Montresor and Fortunato exchange a warm greeting which the narrator attributes to the fact that Fortunato has been imbuing alcohol. Fortunato’s clown seems appropriate since it is the carnival season, as well as the fact that Montresor has the intention of making a fool of him (Levine & Levine, 1990).

It is worth noting that symbolism is used extensively in building the plot right from the beginning to the end. Various symbols and signs are used to give the reader an idea as to what lies ahead or even about the main idea of the entire story. One of the symbols used in the story is the trowel. This occurs when Montresor and Fortunato are heading to the underground graveyard. Fortunato makes a strange sign which is attributed to freemasons. Fortunato goes ahead to ask Montresor whether he is a “member of the brotherhood”, upon which Montresor replies that he is. Fortunato pesters him for a sign, to ascertain that he belongs to freemasons, upon which Montresor retrieves the trowel (Silverman, 1991). Unfortunately, Fortunato does not understand that the trowel is a symbol of impending death especially considering that it is in a graveyard. It is worth noting that Montresor used the trowel to make the wall that hides Fortunato’s body for more than five decades. Another symbol that is used in the story is the use of catacombs (Silverman, 1991). These are a symbol of the evil thoughts of the narrator (Montresor). It is worth noting that the dark and eerie catacombs are below the carnival and happy streets. These signify the impeding dark ending of the story that had started in a celebratory and carnival setting only to end in the underground graveyards (Levine & Levine, 1990). Similarly, it seems that Montresor is a well-mannered and well-to-do member of the society, but he incorporates an eerie and dark personality beneath the attractive exterior. It is worth noting that the true personality of Montresor and the catacombs cannot be seen from the exterior, but they are dangerous and dark once discovered (Quinn, 1941). Another symbolic fixture in the story is the coat of arms and the motto that it incorporates. When Fortunato and Montresor are heading to the graveyard, Fortunato asks Montresor about his family’s coat of arms and the motto. Montresor describes the graphics of the family’s coat of arms and states that the motto is “Nemo me impune lacessit”, which may be loosely interpreted as “No one attacks or assaults me with impunity”. The coat of arm is represented by an enormous golden foot that is crushing a serpent rampant which has its fangs on the foot, against a blue background (Levine & Levine, 1990). This should have served as a symbol that Fortunato would not get away with the insult that he made against Montresor. In fact, it showed that Montresor would make sure that he revenges against Fortunato (Quinn, 1941).

The key or main theme incorporated in “The Cask of Amontillado” is revenge. Montresor has, right, at the beginning, pledged revenge against Fortunato for the latter’s insult. This theme is cemented by the family’s motto “no one attacks me and gets away with it”. In addition, the coat of arms has an enormous human foot crushing a snake that has stuck its fangs in the foot (Levine & Levine, 1990). It is imperative that Fortunato known exactly what is taking place or happening to him. In essence, Montresor derives a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from the fact that Fortunato will reminisce about the opportunities of escape that he rejected. This is bound to sting him with immense regret once he sobers up with terror (Levine & Levine, 1990). In fact, the final blow will be brought by the realization that his craving and thirst for brandy has caused his doom. It goes without saying that Montresor’s plan of taking revenge against Fortunato and the story have been carefully crafted to establish the desired effect (Quinn, 1941).


Silverman, K (1991). Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance. New York: Harper Collins PublishersQuinn, A H, (1941). Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. New York: D. Appleton-Century Company

Levine, S & Levine, SF (1990). The Short Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe: An Annotated Edition. Chicago: University of Illinois Press

Poe, E A (1846). The Cask of Amontillado. Godey’s Lady’s Book

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