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The Cask of Amontillado | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


Why might Edgar Allan Poe have drawn on contemporary events as he wrote "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Edgar Allan Poe was fascinated by the human psyche. He wrote stories that often explored the anxieties and preoccupations of his contemporaries. For example, his story "The Tell-Tale Heart" might have been inspired in part by the controversy of the 1840s over the invocation of the insanity defense in criminal trials. "The Cask of Amontillado" draws on contemporary anxieties over being buried alive. By tapping into the fears and fascinations of his readers, Poe is able to create stories that fully engage the imagination of his readers to their horror, and perhaps elucidate something about human nature.

What parallels are there between Edgar Allan Poe's stories "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado"?

"The Cask of Amontillado" was published three years after Poe's wildly successful "The Tell-Tale Heart." While the second story is longer than the first, there are striking similarities between the two. They both feature only main characters, though other secondary characters are suggested and alluded to; they are both first-person accounts of a crime delivered in the form of a dramatic monologue. The narrator in both stories reveals himself to be mentally unstable and to have committed a crime without just cause. Beyond the similarities in plot points and characterization, these two stories showcase Poe's ability to create tension through point of view, and to explore the darkest parts of the human psyche.

How is Montresor's own fate foreshadowed in the first paragraph of "The Cask of Amontillado"?

In the opening paragraph of "The Cask of Amontillado," Montresor announces his belief that "a wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser." Essentially, he is saying that for his revenge plot to be successful he must not only be immune to external consequences such as getting caught, but he must also be immune from any internal consequence such as psychological distress. While there is no indication in the story that Montresor will be found out by Fortunato's loved ones or law officials, there is a suggestion in the closing of the story that Montresor mourns the loss of his adversary. Perhaps deluded by his own pride, Montresor did not anticipate the sickness of heart he would feel once his retribution was completed.

In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," how are Montresor and Fortunato both undone by the same tragic flaw?

In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," both Montresor and Fortunato suffer from the tragic flaw of pride. Montresor is so prideful that he perceives any slight made by Fortunato as a monumental insult to not only himself but also his well-established and noble family name. This pride leads Montresor to commit murder. Montresor claims that Fortunato "prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine." Though the narrator's word cannot be taken at face value, Fortunato's pride is evident when he says, "Luchesi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry." Though Fortunato's pride is perhaps less pronounced, he allows himself to be lured into the catacomb and lead to his death because he prides himself on being a better judge of wine than Luchesi.

In "The Cask of Amontillado," what does Montresor's attitude toward the Italians reveal about his character?

In "The Cask of Amontillado," Montresor expresses disdain for his fellow Italians when he says that "few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit." They claim to be connoisseurs of "painting and gemmary," but they are, for the large part, impostors who pretend to know more than they do in an attempt to keep up with "British and Austrian millionaires." This assessment of his countrymen reveals some important aspects of Montresor's character. He is quick to judge and prides himself on his ability to assess the "truth" of other people. He also expresses a sense of superiority over these impostors, a characteristic that is evident in his treatment of Fortunato: Montresor knows he will be able to trick Fortunato and believes himself to be superior because of it.

In "The Cast of Amontillado," what suggestion does Edgar Allan Poe offer that Montresor and Fortunato are doppelgangers?

A common trope in the Gothic tradition is the doppelganger, a character who is written into the story as an extension or bifurcation of the protagonist. When taken together, the doppelganger and the protagonist typically represent the totality of a man. One of the most compelling clues to this relationship is Montresor's claim that "I did not differ from [Montresor] materially." Edgar Allan Poe's choice to use the word materially here is significant. One reading of the sentence suggests that Montresor is merely saying there is no degree of difference between the two men's ability to distinguish among fine wines; yet the word also refers to physical substance of material. The use of a word with double meanings suggests that Montresor and Fortunato are one and the same. This interpretation gives rise to the paradox that Montresor's immense hate for Fortunato is, in fact, a self-hatred that he is attempting to kill.

In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," what does Montresor's reaction to Fortunato's warm greeting reveal about Montresor?

When Montresor first encounters Fortunato, Montresor says that Fortunato "accosted me with excessive warmth." While this description of the way in which Fortunato greeted Montresor is, in part, meant to be derisive ("for he had been drinking much"), it also reveals something about Montresor's character beyond his tendency to harshly judge others. The choice of the word accosted, which can simply mean "greeted" but often carries a negative connotation, suggests that Montresor is not one who receives affection well. He is a man dominated by his mind who perhaps prides himself on his ability to keep his emotions under wraps.

In what ways does Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" take up some of the same ideas present in Dante Alighieri's epic poem Inferno?

Dante Alighieri's Inferno is an epic poem that imagines nine circles of Hell through which Dante passes, where he encounters various figures from history who are each banished to a certain circle on account of the kinds of sins they were guilty of in their lifetimes. One of the circles is reserved for people the speaker of the poem believes to be frauds; among them, various flatterers. In "The Cask of Amontillado," Montresor accuses Italians in general and Fortunato specifically of being impostors in connoisseurship of art and gems; the paradox is that Montresor himself is acting as an impostor by pretending to be a concerned friend of Fortunato, a sin that would land him in Dante's eighth circle; but even worse, he commits treachery in the act of murder, a sin that destines Montresor to the ninth circle of Hell.

In "The Cask of Amontillado," how does Edgar Allan Poe establish dampness and also darkness as motifs?

Dampness and darkness are common motifs across Gothic literature, and Edgar Allan Poe uses them to his advantage in "The Cask of Amontillado." While the beginning part of the story occurs above ground, there is still the sense that the streets are dark and people and their true selves are obscured either by costumes or shadows. As the action of the story moves into the depths of the catacombs, toward the vault, the setting grows more damp and dark. The vaults are described as "insufferably damp"; the ground and the nitre-covered walls of the catacomb are damp. The darkness is also all-encompassing; the men carry torches that offer nothing more than a "feeble light." These setting details create an atmosphere of fear and trepidation and the sense that nothing good lies ahead.

How does Edgar Allan Poe create verbal irony in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

In "The Cask of Amontillado," Edgar Allan Poe makes liberal use of verbal irony in the speech of Montresor. Verbal irony occurs when the words used in the text express something that is the opposite of or paradoxical to the truth. For example, Montresor calls Fortunato "my poor friend" at one point in the story, long after the author and reader already know that Montresor harbors deep resentment and a foul plan for Fortunato. Montresor also flatters Fortunato when he says, "You are rich, respected, admired, beloved." Though this may be an accurate general opinion of Fortunato, the reader knows that Montresor harbors very different feelings for Fortunato. This verbal irony contributes to the overall feeling of suspense and dread for Fortunato.

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