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The Cask of Amontillado | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


Beyond his manipulation of Fortunato, how does Montresor show himself to be a keen observer of human behavior and psychology throughout "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Beyond his skilled manipulation of Fortunato, Montresor demonstrates a keen awareness of human behavior and psychology in other respects. One way in which he does this is selecting the night of carnival to execute his premeditated murder; he knows that people will be in costume, drunk, and unlikely to notice that anyone has gone missing for some time. He also dresses in all black so as to divert attention from himself on a night where glitz and glamour abound. Finally, he demonstrates an understanding of his staff by using reverse psychology against them: he orders them to stay home on the night of the murder, knowing full well that such an order would compel them to go out and allow him to sneak Fortunato into the vault undetected.

Why might Edgar Allan Poe have wanted his readers to be able to read "The Cask of Amontillado" in a single sitting?

In his essay "Philosophy of Composition," Edgar Allan Poe insisted that a work must have what he called a "unity of impression." This notion of unity is most likely adapted from the three unities of drama that French classicists distilled from Aristotle's Poetics: unity of time, unity of place, and unity of action. Poe believed that "if two sittings be required, the affairs of the world interfere" with the unity of impression, "and everything like totality is at once destroyed." The benefit of a single-sitting reading is evident in "The Cask of Amontillado." Because so much of the story's success depends on the reader being engaged with Montresor's voice and the mounting tension as Fortunato is lead into the depths of the catacomb toward the vault, breaking this tension would be to the detriment of the effect of the story.

What larger aspects of Italian culture might Fortunato represent in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado"?

When one considers that the story is set during carnival and that Fortunato is dressed in motley, certain cultural characteristics can be ascribed to the character. The tradition of carnival gave society people permission to eschew their civilized life and to behave wildly, indulging their passions behind masks and under the cover of the night. The fact that Fortunato is dressed in motley suggests that there is a degree of foolishness among high society. Montresor's anger toward Fortunato might also signal a larger strife between lower classes (especially those of noble heritage whose status has changed) and the business class.

In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," how does Montresor manipulate Fortunato?

In "The Cask of Amontillado," Montresor demonstrates a keen capacity to understand the psychological condition and motivations of his adversary. In order to lure Fortunato into the vault, Montresor taps Fortunato's pride in his knowledge of wine. Once Montresor has hooked Fortunato with the promise of an Amontillado, he continues to manipulate Fortunato by means of reverse psychology as they journey into the depths of the catacomb. There are multiple instances of Montresor's insistence that the two men turn back on account of Fortunato's health. When they first encounter the "white web-work" of the nitre, Fortunato pauses and Montresor says, "Come ... we will go back; your health is precious." Of course, at the mention of Luchesi, Fortunato decides that he will go on ahead, indifferent to his friend's warning. Later on, Montresor uses reverse psychology when he says, "once more let me implore you to return. No?" But Fortunato is concerned with the Amontillado, and perhaps with preserving his own pride.

How does Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" demonstrate a reverence for the aesthetic?

The notion of art for art's sake was as central to Edgar Allan Poe's work as it was to the Aesthetic Movement. Aesthetics maintained that the beauty of a work of art is more important than its meaning; indeed, Poe believed that a work of literature ought not aim to teach a lesson but rather create an experience for the reader. Though Poe's works have themes, they do not have a didactic purpose, as did some works of other American Gothic writers, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne. In "The Cask of Amontillado," the themes of revenge and folly of pride are present, but they serve the characterization more than they do a moral statement. Readers are able to experience the story on a deep level because they are in the mind of Montresor, a character who is, in large part, defined by his pride and desire for revenge.

How might the narrator of "The Cask of Amontillado" exhibit some of the symptoms of a rabies infection that Edgar Allan Poe himself might have experienced?

Recently surfaced information suggests that Edgar Allan Poe might have met his early death due to a rabies infection. Advanced stages of a rabies infection can give rise to a number of psychological issues, including anxiety, agitation, and even delusions and hallucinations. Certainly, Montresor's perceptions could be interpreted as delusions. There is scant evidence that Fortunato insulted Montresor at all, and no justification for the man's murder; however, Montresor's pride may have taken a harder hit than would that of a mentally healthy person on account of some psychological disturbance. A delusional mind would distort reality and irrationally seek revenge, as Montresor does.

What is the effect of Fortunato's costume in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado"?

"The Cask of Amontillado" is set at carnival time in Italy. In celebration and escape from the social norms of the day, Fortunato is dressed as a jester and is drunk. While the costume signals to the reader that Fortunato is indeed on some level foolish—if trusting a long-time friend can be said to be foolish—there are other implications for the costume. Montresor swears that he has suffered many insults from Fortunato, but perhaps these perceived insults were made in jest, in keeping with Fortunato's jester character. Fortunato's foolish appearance also paints him as an unsuspecting victim for whom the reader can have sympathy.

Which elements of Edgar Allan Poe's arabesque style are present in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Though the words arabesque and grotesque are often conflated and even used interchangeably, there are distinctions between the two styles in literature. Sir Walter Scott is said to have defined the arabesque as that which is "vividly accessible to the influence of imagination." Another element he articulated is that the arabesque story need not be bound by reason. As an aesthete, Edgar Allan Poe's works aimed always to appeal to the imagination rather than to morality; thus, his works are designed to influence and engage the reader's imagination. As seen in "The Cask of Amontillado" and his other works, reason is often abandoned (even when the narrators such as Montresor believe they are most reasonable), and his characters and the narratives themselves are given over to darker human impulses.

How does Edgar Allan Poe create the grotesque in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Central to the American Gothic style is the grotesque. A broad definition of grotesque is a distortion of something ugly or sinister. A grotesque character, however, is more complex; he is one who elicits both disgust and empathy in the reader. In "The Cask of Amontillado," Montresor is a grotesque character. His actions are grotesque—not only does he kill Fortunato, a sickly and overly trusting friend, but also he buries him alive, walling him into a catacomb. What's more, Montresor believes the deed to be a defense of his family's honor, a deed to be admired. Yet despite these terrible deeds, Edgar Allan Poe engenders empathy for Montresor in the phrase my heart grew sick, uttered after the final block is put in. This admission from Montresor—even though he brushes it off as a consequence of the dampness—shows a delicate, human piece of the character that the reader can empathize with.

How does Edgar Allan Poe use techniques of the dramatic monologue in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

In "The Cask of Amontillado," Montresor delivers a dramatic monologue. Originally used in poetry (most famously by Robert Browning), the dramatic monologue has two defining characteristics: first, the story is told in the first person to an anonymous or unknown auditor or audience; second, the limited perspective creates an element of unreliability, as all accounts of other characters' behaviors or speech are filtered through the narrator. By invoking these two characteristics of the dramatic monologue—as did other Gothic writers such as Mary Shelley—Edgar Allan Poe allows Montresor to reveal himself through his interpretations of events, creating tension and suspense out of the reader's doubt.

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