In “The Cask of Amontillado” Edgar Allan Poe takes us on a trip into themind of a mad man. The story relates a horrible revenge made even more horribleby the fact that the vengeance is being taken when no real offense had beengiven. This concept sets the mood for true evil. The plot of the story issimple. Montresor takes revenge on his friend Fortunato by luring him into thewine cellar under the family estate.
There he leads Fortunato into the depths ofthe catacombs where he buries him alive by walling him into a recess in thewall. This story is told in first person, from the point of view of Montresor.The exposition of the story occurs when Montresor tells us that he wants to takerevenge on Fortunato because “he ventured upon insult.” What this insult waswe do not know. We do know that he intends to go unpunished for this act ofreprisal. Montresor then informs us that he is going to continue to smile inFortunatos face, while using Fortunatos pride in his knowledge wine tolure him into the catacombs to taste some of his imaginary amontillado.
At thispoint, the reader knows the conflict will be one of man versus man. It is anexternal struggle because Fortunato and Montresor are in a life and death fight.However, the conflict is largely internal, because Montresor has a fierce hatredthat Fortunato is unaware of.
The climax of the story is when Montresor chainsFortunato to the wall and begins to layer the bricks. It is the high point ofemotional involvement. It is at this point that the reader may ask themselves ifthis is really about to happen. The conclusion lets us know that Montresor wasnever punished for this crime. Fifty years has passed and he is an old mantelling the story on his deathbed. The true horror is that Fortunato died aterrible death, utterly alone, and his killer was never brought to justice. Thetheme in the story is perhaps the least important feature. After all, it isabout a senseless crime.
Maybe the idea behind the story is that no one can findrefuge from a deranged mind, or that terrible crimes can be committed when animaginary offense can fester into reality. In this story the character ofMontresor is revealed through his own words. When he reveals he is going topunish Fortunato for merely insulting him, that he has planned the whole act ofvengeance, and that he has been playing as being Fortunatos friend, we knowwe are dealing with a demented personality.
His character is also revealed withreferences to his family. It is almost as if Poe has Montresors ancestorstell the reader how nicely he fits into the family tree. His family motto is”No one attacks me with impunity” and a coat of arms that depicts a snakewhose last instinct before death is to poison the foot that crushed it.
Montresor is as evil as his forebears were. He shows no remorse about what hehas done, even in old age. Montresors malice toward Fortunato is highlightedwhen he says, “In pace requiescat!”* This sarcastic comment at the end ofthe story truly shows Montresors hatred and total disregard for Fortuatoslife. The setting Poe chose for the story adds to the horror. He sets most ofthe story in a dark, damp series of winding tunnels piled with the bones of deadfamily members.
By taking Fortunato into the vaults, he cuts him off from help.The two characters are underground and isolated. Using the carnival as abackdrop is also skillful because it is a time when everything is in chaos andpeople have lost their self-control. There is noise in the street, the servantsare gone, and Fortunato might have sensed something evil about Montresorsintentions and left the vaults before it was too late.
Poe uses irony throughoutthe story. There is situational irony in the fact that the crime takes placeduring a celebration, that Fortunatos name means good luck, and thatFortunato is dressed like a jester. What is about to happen is just the oppositeof what you would expect. Just about everything Montresor says is ironic. Hesays just the opposite of what he means.
He keeps inquiring about Fortunatoshealth and says he will not die of a cold. The greatest use of irony is whenMontresor says he is a member of the masons. Fortunato thinks he means he is ofa fellow member of a society when what he really means is that he is abricklayer about to brick him in for all eternity. This conversation alsoprovides foreshadowing in the story.
This is the first clue the reader getsabout how Montresor will kill Fortunato. The overall mood of the story is one ofimpending evil. The ending of the story is filled with suspense. You seeMontresor carefully construct each row of stone. At this point Montresor isfully committed to finishing his horrific deed even at the desperate pleas fromFortunato.
When the last brick is set in place, we know Fortunatos fate hasbeen sealed.