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The Cask of Amontillado
By Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
A Study Guide
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Setting
Characters
Type of Work
Point of View
Themes
Examples of Irony
Vocabulary
Biography
Plot Summary
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Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2005
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.......It is dusk on a day during the annual carnival celebration in an Italian city. People are eating, drinking, and making merry before the beginning of the 40-day Lenten season.
.......But one of the cityu0092s residents, Montresor, is not at all merry. Some time ago, a man named Fortunatou0096a wine connoisseuru0096wronged Montresor. In fact, according to Montresor, who is the narrator of the story, Fortunato had committed numerous offenses against himu0096the last one an intolerable insult. Montresor now plans revenge against Fortunato. A man can stand only so much. 
.......When he encounters Fortunato on the street, Montresor does not let on that he is angry or means harm to Fortunato, who, in keeping with the carnival festivities, is tipsy. Fortunato is wearing a court jesteru0092s motley outfit and a cone-shaped hat topped with a bell that sometimes rings when he moves his head. After Montresor greets Fortunato and shakes his hand, he tells Fortunato that he recently came into possession of a pipe (126 gallons) of Amontillado, a prized amber dry wine from Spain. However, Montresor says, he is not sure whether the wine is the genuine article. Proud Fortunato, eager to demonstrate his knowledge of wine, immediately agrees to take up the challenge of determining whether the Amontillado is the real thing.
.......After they arrive at Montresoru0092s palazzo (a sumptuous private residence), they descend into the cold, damp vaults where the wine is kept. The vaults are part of a network of catacombs containing the bones of long-dead members of the Montresor family. Several times, Montresor pretends to be concerned about the health of Fortunato, who has a cough, and suggests that they turn back. But Fortunato says, u0093The cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me.u0094
.......u0093Trueu0096true,u0094 Montresor answers without outward show of the inner glee he must have been feeling.
.......Montresor takes a bottle of Médoc from a shelf, opens it, and gives Fortunato a quaff against the cold. He toasts Fortunato, saying, u0093To your long life.u0094  Moments later, Montresor presents Fortunato a flagon of De Grâve (an interesting name for a deadly occasion). Fortunato empties it. His mind now swims in groggy joy. 
.......When they arrive at a wall at the end of their subterranean journey, Montresor quickly claps his drunken companion in chains attached to iron staples in the wall, then turns the key of a padlock attached to the chains. u0093The Amontillado!u0094 Fortunato says, failing to comprehend his predicament.
.......With stone and mortar that had been ensconced nearby, Montresor walls up Fortunato. There are screams from the niche, then laughter. Fortunato thinks he is the victim of a joke. Montresor continues to work on the vertical tomb. When he completes his task, he hears the jingling of bells on Fortunato's cap. Then Montresor erects a rampart of bones against the wall.
.......Fifty years pass. 
.......Fortunato remains behind the wall, resting in eternal peace.
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Setting

It is early evening in an Italian city during a carnival immediately preceding Lent. 

Characters

.......Montresor, a deranged man who seeks revenge.
.......Fortunato, a haughty wine connoisseur against whom Montresor seeks revenge.

Type of Work 

Short story in the horror genre, although careful readers will note that the story contains a great deal of subtle humor. Poe was one of the developers of the short story as a literary genre. He defined a short story as a narrative prose work that (1) is short enough to be read in one sitting, (2) takes place in one locale on a single day, (or even in a few hours), (3) centers on a single line of action, and (4) maintains a single mood. Every word or phrase should contribute to the theme and the mood.

Narration (Point of View)

First-Person Unreliable. Montresor tells the story in the first person, meaning he uses pronouns such as I, me, my, and so on. He is called an u0093unreliableu0094 narrator because he is mentally unbalanced; his narration may be untrustworthy. For example, he could have imagined that Fortunato wronged him.

Themes

Revenge

Fortunato had committed many offenses against Montresor, the last one an insult, according to Montresor.

Deception

To lure Fortunato into the catacombs, Montresor deceives Fortunato, telling him he wants to taste some wine to determine whether it is genuine Amontillado.

Pride

Fortunato readily accepts Montresor's invitation to taste wine and determine whether it is genuine Amontillado, for Fortunato believes himself to be a great wine connoisseur. So proud is he of his ability that he takes on the challenge even though he has a cough and is already somewhat drunk. 

Use of Irony

Throughout the story, Poe uses verbal and dramatic irony to build suspense, foreshadow the ending, and add a touch of macabre humor. Here are some examples irony:

    The Title: The word cask, meaning wine barrel, is derived from the same root word used to form casket, meaning coffin. Thus, the cask figuratively represents Fortunatou0092s casket.
    Fortunatou0092s Name: The Italian name Fortunato suggests good fortune, luck. However, Fortunato is anything but fortunate; he is going to his death.
    Fortunatou0092s Costume: Fortunato dresses as a court jester. His festive outfit contrasts with the ghastly fate that awaits him. From time to time, the bell on his cone-shaped hat jinglesu0096a nice comic touch from Poe.
    Reference to Masons: Fortunato asks Montresor whether his is a mason, meaning a member of the fraternal order of Freemasonry. Montresor says he is indeed a mason. However, he is using the word to mean a craftsman who builds with stone and mortar (because he will be building Fortunatou0092s u0093tomb,u0094 a stone wall.)
Poe also uses irony frequently in the dialogue. For example, when Montresor runs into Fortunato, he says, u0093My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met.u0094 Later, when Montresor pretends to be concerned about Fortunatou0092s hacking cough as they descend into the vaults, Montresor says, u0093We will go back. Your health is precious. Your are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as I once was. You are a man to be missed.u0094 Fortunato then tells Montresor not to worry: u0093The cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I will not die of a cough.u0094 To this reply, Montresor says, u0093Trueu0096true.u0094 The reader at this point can almost see a devilish gleam in Montresoru0092s eyes, for he knows exactly how Fortunato will die.u0094 Later, Montresor opens a bottle of wine and toasts Fortunato: u0093To your long life,u0094 he says. 

Vocabulary Words

Following is a glossary of difficult words used in the story:

    Amontillado [uh MON te YAH doh] Dry, amber wine. The word Amontillado is derived from Montilla, the name of a Spanish town. The suffix ado means in the style of. Thus, Amontillado is a wine in the style of the kind made in Montilla, Spain.
    Aperture Opening.
    Carnival Festival just before Lent. It is called Mardi Gras in some western countries. The word carnival is derived from the Latin words carne (meat) and vale (farewell). Thus, it literally means u0093farewell to meat.u0094 During Lent, Roman Catholics do not eat meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays thereafter, until Easter.
    Catacombs Uunderground burial places.
    Circumbscribing Encircling, surrounding; tracing a line around. 
    Fetter Shackle, chain, bond.
    Flambeau Torch; plural, flambeaux.
    Hearken Listen carefully.
    Immolate - Kill a person as a sacrifice.
    Imposture Deception, fraud.
    Impunity Freedom from punishment; exempt from punishment.
    Médoc Red wine from the Bordeaux region of France.
    Motley Apparel of many colors; jesteru0092s costume.
    Nemo me impune lacessit [NAY moh MAY im POO nay lah CHESS it] Latin for No one injures me with impunity. This sentence appeared on coins of James I of England.
    Nitre Potassium nitrate.
    Palazzo Palace; splendid home.
    Pipe Cask holding 126 gallons.
    Puncheon Cask holding  84 gallons.
    Rapier [RAY pe er] Two-edged sword.
    Rheum [ROOM] Watery discharge.
    Roquelaure [rok uh LAHR or rok LAHR] Knee-length, often fur-trimmed cloak after Duc de Roquelaure (1656-1738)
    Sconce Bracket on a wall for holding a candle or a torch.
Author Information

Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston. After being orphaned at age two, he was taken into the home of a childless coupleu0096John Allan, a successful businessman in Richmond, Va., and his wife. Allan was believed to be Poeu0092s godfather. At age six, Poe went to England with the Allans and was enrolled in schools there. After he returned with the Allans to the U.S. in 1820, he studied at private schools, then attended the University of Virginia and the U.S. Military Academy, but did not complete studies at either school. After beginning his literary career as a poet and prose writer, he married his young cousin, Virginia Clemm. He worked for several magazines and joined the staff of the New York Mirror newspaper in 1844. All the while, he was battling a drinking problem. After the Mirror published his poem u0093The Ravenu0094 in January 1845, Poe achieved national and international fame. Besides pioneering the development of the short story, Poe invented the format for the detective story as we know it today. He also was an outstanding literary critic. Despite the acclaim he received, he was never really happy because of his drinking and because of the deaths of several people close to him, including his wife in 1847. He frequently had trouble paying his debts. It is believed that heavy drinking was a contributing cause of his death in Baltimore on October 7, 1849. 
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