ASPECTS OF "THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO" : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

i need to write a summary of one part of the story. for example, what the catacombs looked like, the characters, the settings, or symbolisms. i need to show some light on either of these parts of the story.

-- Anonymous, March 01, 2000



I suppose I should preface the following by saying that it solely represents my singular interpretations and opinions of the story as told in The Cask of Amontillado. Over the years, I have read several critiques of this work, many of them I agree with almost entirely and some of them, only partially. The rest well, in an effort to be as delicate as possible, at the time I wasnt even confident we had read the same story in the first place. But, that is the better part of reading Poe; the diversity of interpretations he seems to provoke from the reader. One of my favorites is by Martha Womack, a contributor to the Poe Decoder site. While I cannot agree with her every point, Ms. Womack provides excellent detail and thought provoking analysis. Her comments can be seen at . I encourage you to read it thoroughly.

However, it is quite easy to agree that the fundamental premise of the story told in The Cask of Amontillado is vengeance. Retribution for wrongs long endured by Montresor and callously thrust upon him by the vain and arrogant, Fortunato. One significant point of interest for me each time I read this work of Poe is the brevity of the tale contrasted by the depth of the story told. I would equate the sensation to eating a light lunch and walking out of the restaurant engorged, yet still craving just one more morsel.

The story is written from the point of view of Montresor and he begins his narration without introduction. That is to say that from the beginning, we know nothing of Montressor and are compelled to learn of him as the story progresses. Thereby, we, the reader, are obliged to develop our own assessment of Montresors character, his moral virtue, the true substance of his injuries and the righteousness of his planned retribution. In this, I agree with Ms. Womack. Consequently, we, the reader, tend to employ our own experiences, perceptions, ideals and morality into our assessment of the characters, conditions, events and theme of the story. As always, Poe himself, is an element of our assessments. I am convinced that my conclusions would differ substantially, had this tale been written, even word for word, by anyone other than Poe.

In the first paragraph, Montresor establishes the standards by which the deed must be done. To paraphrase Montresor, I must not only punish, but I must punish in a manner that induces no risk or penalty. I must seek only to avenge and not lust for retribution. Fortunato must know that it is I who is the avenger. This is an excellent example of Poe involving the reader in the story and one of the reasons opinions and conclusions can vary. Poe clearly establishes the rules early in the story and then leaves our imaginations to answer what is not written.

Ms. Womack states in her critique that. Telling the story from Montresor's point of view, intensifies the effect of moral shock and horror. Once again, the reader is invited (as was the case in "The Tell-Tale Heart") to delve into the inner workings of a sinister mind.

With her first sentence, I wholly concur but with the second, respectfully, not so easily. Perhaps I am merely dabbling in semantics here but, in this tale, I would not characterize Montresors mind so much as sinister, but rather as devious and scheming. Obviously, it is a delicate distinction but the former suggests evil intent, and the latter, merely calculated deception. To my mind, Poe makes this quite clear and the two are not necessarily analogous considering the objective is to retaliate for a perceived transgression against the House of Montresor. Perhaps Montresor was familiar with the old maxim of Publilius Syrus Pardon one offence and you encourage the commission of many.

I do not mean to say that premeditated murder by the method prescribed by Montresor was anything other than a malevolent act. Here in the 20th century, our morality provides that muder is evil. I simply mean to say that Montresor, a nobleman in an earlier time, in a European setting, felt that the insult was sufficiently offensive to warrant a response and that full, final retribution was just. After all, the Montresor family motto emblazoned upon their coat of arms was quite unambiguous, Nemo me impune lacessit (No one assails me with impunity). Not only must he redress an unforgivable wrong, it was his duty as a nobleman and master of the House of Montresor to avenge this unpardonable slander. More about this a little later.

I also would part with Ms. Womack in drawing parallels between The Tell-Tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado. In the first, the narrator clearly indicates his love for the blameless, innocent old man whose only flaw was his vulture eye. In the latter, while noted as wealthy and respected, Fortunato is portrayed as a feared and arrogant, pretentious quack, quite lacking in any discernable measure of innocence. However, Montresor admits to and validates Fortunatos skill as a connoisseur of old wines but then goes on to infer that Fortunatos own fanciful appraisal, relative to his talent, far surpasses his actual expertise. It is precisely this arrogance demonstrated by Fortunato that Montresor will employ and contrive to bring about his vengeance and Fortunatos demise.

One important element of the story is that we learn virtually nothing of the nature of the thousand injuries nor of the insult that pushed Montressor into the abysmal act of premeditated murder. This is intentional and as the story progresses, Poe allows the reader to reach his own conclusions and, ultimately, to judge the justice or injustice of the final act itself. Again, Poe is compelling the reader to participate. Surely, it must have been an egregious outrage. Why else would Montresor go to such lengths, such flawless deception to achieve his objective. He was a nobleman after all, above reprisals unless obliged by family honor to avenge a wrong.

In her critique, Ms. Womack writes.. The reader becomes quickly aware of the fact that Montresor is not a reliable narrator, and that he has a tendency to hold grudges and exaggerate terribly, as he refers to the "thousand injuries" that he has suffered at the hands of Fortunato. Hmmmm. well, from my perspective, I do not see this at all. If Montresor is not a reliable narrator, why complete the tale? If Montresor spoke of offenses as benign in nature or in number, doesnt that destroy motive for retribution and significantly diminish the tale? Finally, if Montressor did not hold grudges, we would not ever have been blessed with this wonderful story at all. My Father once told me an old story that included a truism he repeated often. While I have long forgotten the tale, his frequent fatherly lectures have precluded my ever forgetting the saying.

If it is to be, then so shall it be. Were it not, all else shall not make it so.

Ms. Womack also says, Montresor tries to convince the reader that his intentions are honorable in an effort to uphold his family motto. Actually, I agree with Ms. Womack in this but I think our convictions are at cross purposes. Frankly, I confess to being somewhat convinced of his honorable intentions to avenge his familys honor. However, in my view, unrecognized by Montresor, his base motive is truly meant to satisfy his own personal score. Yet he is convinced it is for family honor. It is his justification for murder. This is where Poes mastery excels. While the reader quickly understands the base motive, alas, poor Montresor is never able to grasp the reality of his actions.

I also agree with Ms. Womack heartily in one regard and there does appear to be broad agreement that the story is replete with irony, both dramatic and verbal. On their seemingly fortuitous meeting at the carnival, we the reader, are almost immediately aware of Montresors intentions and Fortunatos ultimate fate. Yet, to the end, Fortunato remains oblivious to Montresors perfidy until the final moment. We wonder how Fortunato can be so naove as to Montresors shrewd manipulations but it becomes clear that it is Fortunatos own hubris that clouds his insight. So much the better for Montresor, it merely adds to his recompense.

We read on to see poor, unsuspecting Fortunato easily, even eagerly, succumb to the strategy of Montresors devious plan. Fortunato, predictable as ever, is dressed in a carnival costume as a jester and crowned with a fools cap tipped with jingling bells. Montresor finds this fitting attire for a buffoon and appropriate considering his destiny to play the ultimate fool.. He accosted me with excessive warmth, for he had been drinking much. says Montresor and concludes, I was so pleased to see him, that I thought I should never have done wringing his hand. Montresor reinforces the coincidence of their meeting, pays him a compliment to feed his ego and finally, opens the trap.  I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts. (A pipe is a cask of wine with a capacity of about 126 gallons)

Dismayed that such a large volume would be easily attainable at carnival time, Fortunato responds, How? Amontillado? A pipe? Impossible! And in the middle of the carnival! Here, Montresor primes the trap with flattery and repeats, I have my doubts, and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter. You were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain. After Montresor has assured Fortunato of his desire only to confirm his bargain purchase and, again reinforces the idea that their meeting is merely chance, he sets the trap. As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchresi. If anyone has a critical turn it is he. He will tell me Obviously, a mutual acquaintance, Luchresi is a friend presumably known to be lacking in wine skills and Fortunato is aghast that Montresor would even consider consulting such a dolt. Luchresi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry., says Fortunato. This remark is typical of Fortunato and reconfirms the sheer arrogance of the man for Montresor. Montresor then serves up more flattery, And yet some fools will have it that his taste is a match for your own. The trap sprung and Fortunato commands, Come, let us go. Confident that Fortunato will now not be dissuaded, Montresor is quite comfortable in his success. He tests Fortunato once again. My friend, no; I will not impose upon your good nature. I perceive you have an engagement. Luchresi.

Once again Fortunato interrupts, I have no engagement. Come., he commands. Reassured that Fortunato is determined, he attempts once more before leaving the carnival, My friend no. It is not the engagement, but the severe cold with which I perceive you are afflicted. The vaults are insufferably damp. They are encrusted with niter. (Niter is a sodium or potassium based nitrate, leached from the soil above the catacombs that collects and crusts on the ceiling and walls) Satisfied the trap is now secured, Montresor has just placed the lock and will test it again and again throughout the tale.

Brazenly dismissing Montresors caution, Fortunato takes Montresors arm, places a roquelaire (a cape or cloak of knee length) around him and hurries off to Montresors palazzo (from the Latin palatium or palace; a large imposing building or residence).

Upon arrival, the attendants were gone as Montresor knew they would be. He had told them he would not return to the palazzo until morning and demanded they not leave, knowing full well that they would violate his instructions and  abscond to make merry in honor of the time. Montresor and Fortunato enter the palazzo and move directly to gain entry to the vaults.

I took from their sconces (a decorative wall bracket) two flambeaux (a lighted torch), and giving one to Fortunato, bowed him through several suites of rooms to the archway that led into the vaults. They continue to descend until they stand together on the damp ground of the catacombs of the Montresors.

The pipe questioned Fortunato. It is farther on. replies Montresor and then draws his attention to the white web-work which gleams from the cavern walls. Here, Poe relates Montresors personal disgust for the man that stood before him and describes Fortunatos eyes as two filmy orbs that distilled the rheum of intoxication. Our image of Fortunato is becoming cumulative as the story progresses and we now perceive him, as does Montresor, as a pompous wealthy boor, drunk and attired as the buffoon he is really thought to be.

Niter? questions Fortunato. Niter, replies Montresor. Now Montresor fawns concern for Fortunatos coughing fit and asks, How long have you had that cough? Suffering a coughing fit, after a time Fortunato recovers himself and responds, It is nothing.

Feigning firmness of decision, Montresor replies, Come, we will go back. More false flattery is heaped upon Fortunato and Montresor hints at his injury from Fortunatos malicious insult. Your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter. We will go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible. Again, Montresor snipes at Fortunatos arrogance and repeats, Besides, there is Luchresi.

Fortunato firmly confirms his determination to continue, Enough. The cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough." We, the reader, can almost hear the chuckle beneath Montresors breath as he responds, Truetrue, and indeed I had no intention of alarming you unnecessarily. But you should use all proper caution. A draught of this Medoc (a red Bordeaux wine named for a region of southwest France, north of Bordeaux) will defend us from the damps. Montresor selects randomly from a row and proceeds to knock off the neck of a bottle of Medoc. Drink, says he, as the wine is passed to Fortunato.

With his bells jingling, Fortunato leers at Montresor as he raises the bottle to his lips and with a voice vacant of sincerity he toasts, I drink to the buried that repose around us. Montresor smoothly replies with equal sincerity, And I to your long life.

Reinforced by the Bordeaux, they proceed, deeper into the catacombs. As they walk, Fortunato remarks, These vaults are extensive. Montresor states that, yes, The Montresors were a great numerous family. I forget your arms. questions Fortunato. Answers Montresor, A huge human foot dor in a field of azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel. To the amusement of Montresor, Fortunato exclaims, Good! Montresor inwardly accepts this as an endorsement of his cunning plan of retribution and how ironic that it comes from the very offender he is to punish! Montresor must have been beside himself with gratification. They move farther .into the inmost recesses of the catacombs. Secure in his plan, assured of Fortunatos determination to render a verdict on the Amontillado, Montresor cannot resist adding to what will become Fortunatos final agony.  I made bold to seize Fortunato by the arm above the elbow. Perhaps this was intended to startle Fortunato and Montresor proceeds to add to the foreboding atmosphere of the damp and shadowy tombs.

The niter! See, it increases. It hangs like moss upon the vaults. We are below the rivers bed. The drops of moisture trickle among the bones. Come we will go back ere it is too late. Your cough Once again, resolute in his need to demonstrate his mastery with Amontillado wine, Fortunato repeats, It is nothing, let us go on. But first, another draught of the Medoc.

Montresor releases his arm and retrieves a flacon (small decorative bottle) of De Grave (another French Bordeaux, I think). Emptying the bottle, at a breath, Fortunato, bold from the wine, then laughs and executes a ludicrous gesture unrecognized by Montresor. Noting Montresors surprise, Fortunato repeats the strange movement and still Montresor does not acknowledge recognition. Fortunato queries Montresor, You do not comprehend? and Montresor replies, Not I,

Then you are not of the brotherhood. reasoned Fortunato, referring to the Masons or Freemasons, a major secret fraternal society originally asserted to be based on brotherly love, faith and charity. Its origins are thought to have developed from medieval stonemason guilds that demanded secrecy and a belief in God as the great Architect of the universe. Freemasonry spread to continental Europe and America in the 18th century where it became more political in character and was condemned by some European governments for its secrecy and principles.

I would suggest that Poe adds this simply as another point of irony in that Fortunato makes issue of the fact Montresor could not possibly be a member of the secret society and heartlessly violates protocol by offering insult to his host. You? Impossible! A mason? Upon demand, Montresor is unable to verify a sign and confirm his fellowship in the society. To assure Fortunato, Montresor produces a trowel from beneath his cloak. Fortunato recoils but sees this as a amusing attempt of Montresor to validate his affiliation. You jest,. But let us proceed to the Amontillado. Putting away the tool, Montresor,  offers his arm, and they continue their descent into the damp and dark bowels of the catacombs until they arrive at a deep crypt, in which the very air is insufficient to support the flame of their torches.

Here, the readers image of the setting is complete. Montresor has successfully lured Fortunato, by his design and as a result of Fortunatos own conceit, to his own murder. The darkness begins to shift as the flames slowly diminish to a mere glow. The eerie shadows flicker, back and forth, upon the walls of the dark, dank, damp crypt. Mineral laden water gradually seeping through the stained, encrusted ceiling and sluggishly flows down the heavy stone walls in tiny rivulets and drips among the bones of the dead, each plop and spatter echoing in the foul stench of the humid chamber air.

As Montresor leads Fortunato to the  remote end of the crypt, he describes for us a recess,  in depth about four feet, in width three, and in height six or seven., that is to become Fortunatos tomb. Dulled by the Medoc and De Grave, Fortunato raises his feeble light to see into the recess with no success. Perhaps sensing hesitation of the part of Fortunato, Montresor tells him, Proceed; herein lies the Amontillado. For good measure, he adds As for Luchresi. Thus prompted, Fortunato responds, He is an ignoramus., and Fortunato fumbles forward into the recess, and finding his progress arrested by the rock, stood stupidly bewildered. Too surprised to resist, Montresor quickly fetters him to the granite wall with a chain and lock.

His mission almost complete he has only his relish remaining to satisfy. Montresor withdraws the key from the lock and retreats from the recess.

Gleeful with his success, Montresor cannot resist adding to the shock of Fortunato by revealing himself as the schemer of this exquisitely executed plan. Montresor ridicules, Pass your hand over the wall; you cannot help feeling the niter. Indeed, it is very damp. Facetiously, Montresor mocks Fortunato with his previous refusals to go back, Once more let me implore you to return. No? Then I will positively leave you. But I must first render you all the little attentions in my power.

Not yet fully recovered, Fortunatos remaining arrogance will not yet allow him to accept what is happening. Amontillado! exclaims Fortunato.

We can imagine the sarcastic grin as Montresor fills his voice with irony and replies, True, the Amontillado. Now he hurriedly scatters the bones that had been previously removed from the wall of the crypt and beneath, finds the building stone and mortar with which he intends to entomb his offender. With the aid of his masons trowel and the stones, he began vigorously to close up the entrance to the recess.

Montresor had barely laid the first row of stones when he became aware of the,  low moaning cry from the depth of the recess. He is able to discern that Fortunato is sobering for the moans were,  not the cry of a drunken man. The moaning ceases for a time and during the quiet, Montresor makes haste to lay three additional layers of stone. The stupor of the wine rapidly diminishing, Fortunato frantically attempts to free himself from the chains. For several minutes, the chains rattle furiously as Montresor pauses and rests among the bones to delight in Fortunatos frustration and fear. As the clanking slows, Montresor resumes his work and lays three additional rows of stone. Seven full rows now completed to the height of his breast, Montresor pauses again and raises the torch above the highest stonework to throw, .a few feeble rays upon the figure within.

Suddenly, in his desperation, the trapped and chained Fortunato issues forth, A succession of loud and shrill screams, Startled, Montresor recoils. For a brief moment he hesitates and stands trembling. Fearing Fortunato may have somehow broken loose, he draws his sword and probes the darkness. Quickly, he is reassured and grasping the stonework of the catacombs he calms himself. He approaches the opening and begins to mock the agony of Fortunato by raising his own clamor until his voice equals and then surpasses his captive in volume. The voice within becomes still. Quiet and calm filled the dark and dismal crypt.

Midnight now and his labors were drawing to a close. He had completed three more layers of stones and a portion of the final row until a single stone remained to be set. As Montresor heaved its weight into place,  there came from out the niche, a low laugh that erected the hairs upon my head. Unrecognizable as the noble Fortunatos voice, strained from screaming the voice now spoke sadly with what little conceit was left to him..

Ha! ha! ha! he! he! he!.. A very good joke indeed an excellent jest. We will have many a rich laugh about it at the palazzo. he! he! he! over our wine.. he! he! he! Montresor could not resist wounding him further with Fortunatos own conceit and exclaimed, The Amontillado!

He! he! he!. he! he! he!. yes the Amontillado. But is it not getting late? Will not they be awaiting us at the palazzo. The Lady Fortunato and the rest? Let us be gone.

In a voice filled with mockery, Montresor replies, Yes, let us be gone.

The reader can only imagine the appalling fear and terror the poor offender, Fortunato, felt, chained in the damp and dreary darkness with his last possible hope of escape, Montresor, standing beyond the stone barrier peering inwardly with satisfaction of purpose gleaming in his eyes. For the love of God, Montresor! he screams.

In one last mocking reply, Montresor gathers all the remaining contempt he holds for the wealthy and respected Fortunato and taunts, Yes, for the love of God!

Waiting for a reply, he grows impatient and calls out, Fortunato! There is no response and he calls again, Fortunato!.. still no answer.

Montresor casts the torch into the opening and lets the torch fall within the niche. The only acknowledgement was a jingling of the bells mounted upon the jesters cap. His heart grew sick but he reasoned it to be,  the dampness of the catacombs that made it so. He hurriedly forced the final stone in place and plastered it up. Against the new masonry I re-erected the old rampart of bones. For half a century no mortal has disturbed them. The reader can almost read his thoughts. Perhaps in another half century, some inquisitive mortal will disturb them once again. Until then, the final irony.. In pace requiescat (Rest in peace) poor noble Fortunato.

-- Anonymous, March 04, 2000

i'd like to have an analysis of the characters in Cask of Amontillado. thank you.

-- Anonymous, July 16, 2001

i'd like to have the cast of characters of the story"the cask of amontillado" thank u!!

-- Anonymous, October 20, 2001

what's up with this jetis guy? i've read about a million things he's written to other people - and they're like 2 pages long! is this what he does foe a living? i don't mean any disrespect or anything, he's a big help, but...i'm just curious if he does this for fun or something.

let me know

-- Anonymous, October 30, 2001

well, he does this for kids the copy it for projects at school :)

-- Anonymous, October 07, 2002

Perhaps it is a bit late for Fortoonatoun but he still keeps his Eye on Sir Lancelot & co. Maybe it’s very late for Lookeasy and he could be a slice too lazy to go upstairs. Sure the Graeve will be tasted, or the Mereloo sipped in a cellar far below sea level. The chat will endless be conducted by the Amon Till Ad Oo. So. do they are alter-ego’s? Fanny (one): “Mirror on the wall, who is…?” To Fanny (two): “Look in your Eye, who is…?” Let us try a simple exercise. Suppose Fanny (F1) one is become partially Fanny two (F2), and vice versa. If F2 is becoming partly vice-F1, or if F2 becomes next in rank to F1 and could be able to represent F1 or act for him, what will happen with their semiotics? And please, dear Yankees, don’t twist your mind with some Miami- vices! Keep in your heads the Seminole’s resistance! Then, what happens with their speech? Let us look more closely to the recto-verso effect (looking-glass reflection) of their words. e-name: F1 “Private (poe)” The diminutive of Edgar Poe was Eddie F2 “Eddie (eddie Marcus)” Answer’s frequency: F2 answers once on September 30 & re-answers to himself the same day. F1 answers once on October 03 (reverse of 30), answers once on October 04 & re-answers to himself the same day, as F2 Late: The “shade” of meaning by F1 “Tonight…a little bit late for you…” is falling on F2 “Hmmm…- …it is very late” inducing a nice slumber. Self-correction: F2 corrects one omission “ ‘Outis’—yes, I simply (and unforgivable) forgot this one.” F1 corrects himself in his second self- answer “P.S. Please, correct, in my previous comment, ‘FANNY’, instead of ‘TO FANNY’ ” Ascendancy: Concerning ‘The Stylus’ claim, F2 “…I am prepared to reverse this, but I’m not convinced…” F1 “…may be used to rub out some of my propositions… I leave all this matter to your own judgment…” Pen name: F2 uses “pen-name… nom de plume…fashion of a gentleman- amateur…disguise the identity of a known author…alterego…” note the gluing of alter & ego. F1 uses “…nom de plume… signature… pen name… fictitious narrator” And what about the feather-name “M” mentioned by F1? Does it refer to the patronymic initial of F2?

-- Anonymous, October 08, 2002

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