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The Cask of Amontillado | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


What might be the symbolism of Montresor and Fortunato's descent into the catacomb in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado"?

In "The Cask of Amontillado," things grow darker, damper, and more dangerous as Fortunato and Montresor descend into the depths of the catacomb, arriving at the Montresor vault. This journey can be interpreted not only as the literal descent to the vault but also as a metaphorical descent into the depths of Montresor's psyche. The physical environment grows darker as the two men move on, just as the intentions of Montresor and the fate of Fortunato grow darker. The nitre covering the walls poses a serious health risk, suggesting that there is some poison in the mind of Montresor; once the men arrive at the crypt, Montresor explains that the feeble light of Fortunato's torch could not illuminate the termination of the "depth of the recess." This suggests that light, or goodness, cannot see or comprehend the depths of Montresor's demented psyche, just as innocent Fortunato could not foresee Montresor's plot against him.

How does the diction of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" impact the story?

One common characteristic across American Gothic writing is the use of elevated diction. This elevation is often characterized by obscure and archaic word choices. This effect is first established in the opening sentence of the story: "The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could." This sentence could be read much more colloquially, but Edgar Allan Poe intentionally endows his narrator with a formal, highly stylized language as is customary in the Gothic genre. Other examples of this elevated diction, such as "three sides of this interior crypt were still ornamented in this manner," can be seen throughout the narrative. Additionally, the use of Latin for the coat of arms' motto and for Montresor's final farewell to Fortunato invokes antiquity.

How does the character of Montresor in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" reflect romantic preoccupations with the danger of strong emotions?

Like the narrator in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," Montresor prides himself on his ability to remain rational and develop a meticulous plan. Both these characters eschew the idea of being swept up in or controlled by strong passion or emotion. This was a central preoccupation that surfaced again and again in Gothic literature, from Nathaniel Hawthorne's work to Robert Louis Stevenson's. The paradox in Poe's short stories (as in the works of other Gothic writers) is that the very occasion for the supposed rational execution of these meticulous plans is an overwhelming emotional response. In Montresor's case, he lets his feelings of wounded pride spur him into executing a murderous revenge plot.

How does Edgar Allan Poe build tension in "The Cask of Amontillado" by introducing the Montresor motto?

As Montresor leads Fortunato deeper into the catacomb, Fortunato asks Montresor about his family's coat of arms after remarking on how extensive the vaults are. After reminding Fortunato of the image of the foot crushing the serpent who bites the foot, Montresor also reminds Fortunato that the motto is Nemo me impune lacessit. This reminder that no one insults Montresor with impunity comes just after Montresor ironically drinks to Fortunato's "long life" and just before the two men "passed through walls of piled bones." By delivering these three details—the toast to a long life, the reminder of the family motto, and the pile of bones—in succession, Edgar Allan Poe builds tension, as the reader becomes increasingly aware of both Fortunato's fate and his folly.

In "The Cask of Amontillado," what is the effect created by the comparison of the nitre to hanging moss?

In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," when Montresor leads Fortunato through the tunnels of the catacomb, he remarks, "The nitre! ... it increases. It hangs like moss upon the vaults." Despite Montresor's verbal offer to turn around and spare Fortunato's health, Montresor knows full well that Fortunato will continue in search of the Amontillado. The image of nitre hanging like moss gives the reader a sense of increasing enclosure, where the nitre hangs down closer and closer to the men's heads as they tunnel deeper beneath the river; if one reads the catacombs as the Montresor's psyche, then the moss suggests some illness or infectious growth that gets worse the further into the psyche one goes.

In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," what evidence is there that Fortunato has insulted Montresor?

Although Montresor never reveals to the reader of the story what exactly Fortunato has said to insult him so seriously, there is one suggestion about the source of conflict that comes late in the story. When the two men are deep in the depths of the vaults, Fortunato makes the sign of a Mason to Montresor who does not comprehend the movement that he describes as "grotesque." Based on Montresor's reaction, Fortunato knows that Montresor is not a Mason. This could be the first time Fortunato has ever insulted Montresor by saying "You? Impossible! A mason?" However, Montresor's trowel suggests that he was prepared for this kind of insult. The irony of killing Fortunato through the actual craft of masonry certainly suggests that this "You? Impossible!" is an insult that has so deeply wounded Montresor's pride and is at the root of Montresor's hatred for Fortunato.

What are the external conflicts in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado"?

The external conflict of "The Cask of Amontillado" centers on the two main characters, Fortunato and Montresor. The conflict that incites Montresor to act as he does is his feeling of injury at Fortunato's supposed multiple insults. Despite Montresor's insistence that he has "borne as best I could" the "thousand injuries of Fortunato," Montresor's actions suggest that he has indeed been harboring anger and a mounting desire for revenge. Though the conflict is perceived by the narrator to have grown from an objective, external condition, the true source of conflict is more likely than not in the mind of Montresor.

What are the internal conflicts in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado"?

What Montresor perceives to be an external conflict in "The Cask of Amontillado" is, in fact, most likely an internal conflict. Because Montresor is convinced that Fortunato has insulted him, Montresor feels the need to invoke the motto of the Montresor family and seek revenge on his friend; however, there is little indication that Fortunato has done anything to deserve Montresor's wrath, thus the conflict is in Montresor's mind. Beyond Montresor's perception of Fortunato's injurious comments, Montresor hints at another internal conflict: his belief that he is superior to other Italians. He labels them as impostors who lack "the true virtuoso spirit," whereas he himself is a genuine connoisseur. Yet again, it is clear that Montresor's conflict with his fellow Italians is in his head rather than the consequence of some external reality. Additionally, if one reads the two characters as Gothic doubles or doppelgangers of one another, then all conflicts in the story must be internal.

In "The Cask of Amontillado," how does Edgar Allan Poe develop and use the idea of death?

In keeping with the 19th-century fascination with death, a preoccupation that is exemplified and amplified through American Gothic literature, Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" addresses the idea of death. The setting of the catacomb and the Montresor family vault lends itself to the many recurring images of death and decay. As Montresor leads Fortunato deeper into the catacomb, Fortunato remarks, "these vaults ... are extensive," signaling that there are many dead buried in the tunnels. He even drinks to "the buried that repose around us," reminding the reader that dead bodies abound. Montresor, as his plot unfolds, mentions the piles of bones seven times before the conclusion of the story. The effect is that the reader is never able to forget that they are in a tomb of death, underscoring the irony that Fortunato does not see what is coming.

How are the characters of Montresor and Fortunato similar and different in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Montresor discloses a few different ways that he believes himself to be similar to Fortunato. Superficially, they are both connoisseurs of wine. More significantly, they both exhibit high levels of pride. Montresor boasts to Fortunato about the greatness of his family and to the story's auditor on the genius of his plan. For his part, Fortunato's prideful ways are revealed by his insistence that Luchesi could not tell a Sherry from an Amontillado, the implication being that he, Fortunato, is a better judge of fine wines. Though Fortunato's pride could be seen as a less than desirable character trait—one that ultimately led him to his death—his pride leads him only to behave foolishly. Montresor's pride, on the other hand, is an insidious force that leads him to act vengefully. While Montresor comes across as a very pensive and deliberate man, Fortunato appears jovial and less serious, at least on the night of the carnival. In these ways, the two men work as foils for one another.

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