The Cask of Amatillado


An Analysis of "The Cask of Amontillado
In "The Cask of Amontillado" Edgar Allan Poe takes us on a journey 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. In a short space and with ultimate technical skill, Poe creates a nightmare, guaranteed to give the reader a sleepless night.
The plot of the story is a simple one. Montresor tales 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 niche. 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." 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 against 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 is curious to know what will happen next. We know the moment of revenge is at hand, but what is Montresor going to do to Fortunato? 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 our high point of emotional involvement. We are like Fortunato in that we cannot bring ourselves to believe what is about to happen. The denouement lets us know indeed, 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 medieval buildings?
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 deranged 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" 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" 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