It would probably take you less time to read “The Cask of Amontillado” than it will to read this summary:
Montresor doesn’t like Fortunato on account of the thousands of injuries he has caused, injuries that he bears magnanimously (yes, that’s sarcasm), but when Fortunato resorts to insult, Montresor vows revenge, a revenge which excludes punishment and a revenge which makes Fortunato completely aware of who’s getting the revenge.
It’s Carnival in Italy and good wine is at a premium. Montresor uses stratagem to lure Fortunato into his underground vaults to exact his revenge. Fortunato, ever so happy to display his wine wisdom, agrees to accompany Montresor into the catacombs to test the wine, hoping to expose Montresor as a fool, ironic considering Fortunato’s wearing the fool’s costume.
There are two things that allow Montresor’s plan to succeed: (1) Fortunato is extremely drunk; (2) Montresor is a master of reverse psychology and irony. Numerous times, he cautions Fortunato about his cough and declares his wish to go to Luchesi–whom we know little of other than Fortunato thinks he’s an “ignoramus.” This mention of Fortunato’s rival makes him all the more eager to prove Montresor’s imbecility in buying Amontillado from a huckster.
The two proceed down the ancient corridor when, suddenly, Montresor chains Fortunato to a wall, where he has remained ever since.
- The Unreliable Narrator - Any analysis of “The Cask of Amontillado” must take into account the story’s point of view. Everything we know is filtered through the demoniacal brain of Montresor. Montresor is easily offended, jealous of Fortunato, and a little strange. His propensity for being offended stems from his insecurity, an insecurity that could lead him to invent a story about masterminding the perfect murder/revenge. His jealousy of Fortunato leads him to slant everything in the story to make Fortunato look stupid–his motley dress, his drunkenness, his pomposity. The story itself indicates Montresor lacks sanity and cannot be trusted. It’s his insanity, however, that leads the reader to believe he is capable of such an act.
- The Insult - Montresor vows revenge after Fortunato insults him. The question that must be answered is what exactly, if anything, does Fortunato do to cause such hatred in Montresor. The two exchange lively banter in the catacombs, yet nothing is revealed in regards to the insult needed to be avenged. Why doesn’t Poe include the insult? Because the insult’s irrelevant and may have never occurred.
- Premature Burial - Poe had an irrational fear of being buried alive and many of his stories have some aspect of premature burial: (1) A cat is walled up, feasting on his dead wife’s brain in “The Black Cat”; (2) The protagonist in “The Pit and the Pendulum” nearly falls down a pit, sitting in the middle of a cell that resembles a tomb; (3) “The Premature Burial,” as the title suggests, contains stories about people being buried alive; (4) “The Fall of the House of Usher” contains another example of being buried alive.
- Theme - Posssible themes include revenge, deception, pride, and insanity. For more on themes, view example thesis statements for “The Cask of Amontillado” below.
Sample Thesis Statements
Just in case you’ve been assigned an essay, I’ve included thesis statements:
- Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” doubles as an essay on how to get revenge.
- Fortunato in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” gets what he deserves.
- Montresor’s use of irony in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” demonstrates that the crime he narrates never actually took place.
- The setting in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” establishes the perfect backdrop for the perfect crime.
Feel free to share your thesis statements by leaving a comment below.
This post is part of the series: Short Story Study Guides
These short stories are commonly taught in high school. I teach high school. I can help.