An Analysis of “The Cask of Amontillado
In “The Cask of Amontillado” Edgar Allan Poe takes us on a trip into the mind of a mad
man. The story relates a horrible revenge made even more horrible by the fact that the vengeance
is being taken when no real offense had been given. Even though this is a short story, Poe creates
a nightmare, almost guaranteed to give the reader a sleepless night.
The plot of the story is simple. Montresor takes revenge on his friend Fortunato by luring
him into the tunnels under the family estate. There he leads Fortunato into the depths of the
catacombs where he buries him alive by walling him into a recess in the wall. The story is told in
first person from the point of view of Montresor himself. The exposition of the story occurs
when Montresor tells us that he wants to take revenge on Fortunato because “he ventured upon
insult”(191). We also learn that he intends to go unpunished for this act of vengeance. The
narrator informs us that he is going to continue to smile in Fortunato’s face, but use the pride his
victim has in wine to lure him into the catacombs to taste some of his non- existent amontillado.
At this point, the reader knows the conflict will be one of man versus man. It is an external
struggle because Fortunato and Montresor are in a life and death fight. However, the conflict is
largely internal, because Montresor has a fierce hatred that Fortunato is unaware of. The
narrative hook seems to occur when Fortunato follows Montresor into the vault. Even if the
reader was confused by the language of the first paragraph or is puzzled by the motive of the
narrator, he/she is curious to know what will happen next. Knowing that revenge is at hand the
reader wonders what it will be. Why is he taking him underground?
The climax of the story is when Montresor chains Fortunato to the wall and begins to
layer the bricks. It is the high point of emotional involvement. It is at this point that the reader
may ask themselves if this is really about to happen. The conclusion lets us know that Montresor
was never punished for this crime. Fifty years has passed and he is an old man telling the story on
his deathbed. The true horror is that Fortunato died a terrible death, utterly alone, and his killer
was never brought to justice.
Perhaps the theme in the story is the least important feature. After all, it is about a
senseless crime, and what sense can be made of such horror? Perhaps the idea behind the story is
that no one can find refuge from a deranged mind, or that terrible crimes can be committed when
an imaginary offense can fester into a deep hatred. Perhaps Poe is saying that there have always
been great crimes that go unsolved. How many undiscovered remains are there in the walls of
In this story the character of Montresor is revealed through his own words. When he
reveals he is going to punish Fortunato for merely insulting him, that he has planned the whole act
of vengeance, and that he has been playing as being Fortunato’s friend, we know we are dealing
with a demented personality. His character is also revealed with references to his family. It is
almost as if Poe has Montresor’s ancestors tell the reader how nicely he fits into the family tree.
His legacy from his family motto “No one attacks me with impunity”(193) and a coat of arms
that depicts a serpent whose last wish before death is to poison the foot that crushed it. Does the
fruit of ever fall far from the tree? Montresor is as evil as his forebears were. He shows no
remorse about what he has done, even in old age. When he says, “May he rest in peace”(196) at
the end of the story, the reader gets the feeling he means, ” I hope you stay there and rot” rather
than, “I hope you found joy and peace in heaven.”
We don’t really know much about Fortunato: just enough to know that he must not have
really known the true heart of his friend. He must not have been a guarded person. He must have
said too much to make Montresor think he was insulting him and he must have boasted about his
knowledge of wines. You feel that Fortunato was probably a bit too sociable and a bit foolish.
He was an unfortunate man who found himself in contact with the wrong person.
The setting Poe chose for the story adds to the horror. He sets most of the story in a
dark, damp series of winding tunnels piled with bones. By taking Fortunato into the vaults, he
cuts him off from help. The two characters are underground and isolated. As Montresor leads his
friend through the vaults, we feel as if we are being led through the crazed corridors of
Montresor’s sick mind. Using the carnival as a backdrop is also skillful because it is a time when
everything is in chaos and people have lost their self-control. There is noise in the street, the
servants are gone, and Fortunato might have sensed something evil about Montresor’s intentions
and left the vaults before it was too late.
Poe’s style is what makes this a masterpiece of horror. He uses imagery to help the reader
experience of the catacombs. We see the vaults “encrusted with niter”(193), the “walls piled
with bones”(194), ” the glow of the flambeaus”(194), and “the mask of black silk”(192)
Montresor wears. We hear the jingle of bells on Fortunato’s cap, his hacking cough, and his
laughter of despair as he is buried alive. We feel the dampness of the catacombs. Poe uses irony
throughout the story. There is situational irony in the fact that the crime takes place during a
celebration, that Fortunato’s name means good luck, and that Fortunato is dressed like a jester.
What is about to happen is just the opposite of what you would expect. Just about everything
Montresor says is verbal irony. He says just the opposite of what he means. He keeps inquiring
about Fortunato’s health and says he will not die of a cold. The greatest use of irony is when
Montresor says he is a member of the masons. Fortunato thinks he means he is of a fellow
member of a society when what he really means is that he is a bricklayer about to brick him in for
all eternity. This conversation also provides foreshadowing in the story. This is the first clue the
reader gets about how Montresor will punish Fortunato.
The overall mood of the story is one of horror and impending evil. The ending of the
story is filled with suspense. What will happen now that Fortunato is chained to the wall? Will
Montresor come to his senses and have mercy on Fortunato? We see Montresor carefully
construct each tier of the wall. Why does he hesitate at the end? Will he react to the desperate
cry of Fortunato? When the last brick is set in place, we know Fortunato’s doom has been sealed.
I find that this story makes the hairs on my back of my neck rise every time I read it.
There is no real violence in the modern sense of the word, it is almost more horrifying because
rayther than see it with our eyes we se it with our imagination.