Poe Study Guides
Michael J. Cummings...©
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.
one of the city’s residents, Montresor, is not at all merry. Some time
ago, a man named Fortunato–a wine connoisseur–wronged Montresor. In fact,
according to Montresor, who is the narrator of the story, Fortunato had
committed numerous offenses against him–the last one an intolerable insult.
Montresor now plans revenge against Fortunato. A man can stand only so
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 jester’s 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.
they arrive at Montresor’s 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, “The cough is a mere nothing;
it will not kill me."
Montresor answers without outward show of the inner glee he must have been
takes a bottle of Médoc from a shelf, opens it, and gives Fortunato
a quaff against the cold. He toasts Fortunato, saying, “To your long life."
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.
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. “The
Amontillado!" Fortunato says, failing to comprehend his predicament.
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.
remains behind the wall, resting in eternal peace.
It is early evening in an
Italian city during a carnival immediately preceding Lent.
a deranged man who seeks revenge.
a haughty wine connoisseur against whom Montresor seeks revenge.
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.
(Point of View)
Montresor tells the story in the first person, meaning he uses pronouns
such as I, me, my, and so on. He is called an “unreliable"
narrator because he is mentally unbalanced; his narration may be untrustworthy.
For example, he could have imagined that Fortunato wronged him.
Fortunato had committed many
offenses against Montresor, the last one an insult, according to Montresor.
To lure Fortunato into the
catacombs, Montresor deceives Fortunato, telling him he wants to taste
some wine to determine whether it is genuine Amontillado.
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.
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
meaning wine barrel, is derived from the same root word used to
form casket, meaning coffin. Thus, the cask figuratively
represents Fortunato’s casket.
Poe also uses irony frequently
in the dialogue. For example, when Montresor runs into Fortunato, he says,
“My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met." Later, when Montresor pretends
to be concerned about Fortunato’s hacking cough as they descend into the
vaults, Montresor says, “We 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." Fortunato then tells Montresor not to worry: “The
cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I will not die of a cough."
To this reply, Montresor says, “True–true." The reader at this point can
almost see a devilish gleam in Montresor’s eyes, for he knows exactly how
Fortunato will die." Later, Montresor opens a bottle of wine and toasts
Fortunato: “To your long life," he says.
The Italian name Fortunato suggests good fortune, luck. However,
Fortunato is anything but fortunate; he is going to his death.
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 jingles–a 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 Fortunato’s “tomb," a stone wall.)
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
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,
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 “farewell to meat."
During Lent, Roman Catholics do not eat meat on Ash Wednesday and all the
Fridays thereafter, until Easter.
surrounding; tracing a line around.
Fetter Shackle, chain,
Flambeau Torch; plural,
Hearken Listen carefully.
Immolate - Kill a
person as a sacrifice.
from punishment; exempt from punishment.
wine from the Bordeaux region of France.
Motley Apparel of
many colors; jester’s 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
Pipe Cask holding
Puncheon Cask holding
Rapier [RAY pe er]
Rheum [ROOM] Watery
Roquelaure [rok uh
LAHR or rok LAHR] Knee-length, often fur-trimmed cloak after Duc de Roquelaure
Sconce Bracket on
a wall for holding a candle or a torch.
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 couple–John Allan, a successful businessman
in Richmond, Va., and his wife. Allan was believed to be Poe’s 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 “The Raven" 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.