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The Cask of Amontillado | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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Why might Edgar Allan Poe have made the decision to create an unreliable narrator for "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Edgar Allan Poe's work often features unreliable narrators, including stories such as "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "The Tell-Tale Heart." The unreliable narrator is central to "The Cask of Amontillado" for a couple of reasons. First, Poe creates tension between Montresor's understanding of Fortunato and his own deeds and the understanding that the reader forms as the story unfolds. Second, this tension is amplified by the fact that Montresor is so sure that his revenge plot is justified, he doesn't even attempt to convince the reader of his rationale; he relays the events of the story as he would narrate any other account.

In "The Cask of Amontillado," how does the language Montresor uses to describe Fortunato change from the beginning of the story to the end?

In the beginning of "The Cask of Amontillado," Montresor's dislike for Fortunato is evident from the very first paragraph; however, by the end of the story, Montresor no longer even recognizes Fortunato as a human. Instead, he describes the "succession of loud and shrill screams, bursting suddenly from the throat of the chained form." This dehumanizing of Fortunato works on a few levels. First, if the story is read as Montresor's literal killing of another man, then Montresor's erasure of Fortunato's human qualities might make it easier for him to execute his revenge plot. It is easier to think of walling in a "chained form" than a once dear friend. Second, if Montresor and Fortunato are read as two parts of the same man, then Montresor's words work to alienate the goodness that Fortunato represents from the narrator himself—the final step to the death of Montresor's virtue. This creates a paradox where Montresor aims to kill Fortunato but, indeed, kills something of himself.

What clues are there that Montresor represents the evil side of humanity and Fortunato represents the virtuous in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

The Romantic and Gothic writers were very concerned with good and evil, often writing stories in which an indulgence of passion leads one to evil deeds. Though Edgar Allan Poe's works are less overly moralistic, his characters do sometimes embody these themes. Montresor is clearly a man who, despite his pride in his self-control and meticulous planning, is overtaken by his passion for revenge and thus led to evil deeds. As Montresor walls Fortunato into his grave in the vault, Fortunato's last words are "For the love of God, Montresor!" This exclamation suggests that Fortunato, as Montresor's doppelganger, is the good part of Montresor that is about to be extinguished forever.

What might be the occasion for Montresor's confession in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Though there is no indication of to whom Montresor tells the story of "The Cask of Amontillado," it is clear that there is an auditor. Not only is the presence of an auditor implied by the use of the dramatic monologue form, but Montresor addresses an unidentified "you" in the opening of the story. In the denouement, Montresor says that "for a half of a century no mortal has disturbed" the grave of Fortunato. This narrative can be read as Montresor's confession on his death bed. In the Christian tradition, confession has the power to absolve the confessor of his sins. If Montresor's telling of the story is understood as his confession, then it's likely that his final words In pace requiescat! (which translates to "rest in peace") are not directed toward Fortunato but rather himself. Another possible interpretation is that Montresor prided himself so much on his ability to execute the perfect revenge crime that he could not go to the grave without telling someone. Of course, this creates a paradox, as the crime is no longer perfect in light of his confession.

What tone is set in the opening paragraph of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Edgar Allan Poe's works are highly stylized, in large part because of his work establishing tone. In the opening paragraph of "The Cask of Amontillado," Poe establishes the tone on two levels. The first is the overall tone of the story, which can be read as confidential; Montresor addresses his auditor, saying, "You, who so well know the nature of my soul." This phrase signals a level of intimacy required between a confessor and his confidant, especially one who is trusted enough to hear a 50-year-old secret. Second, the tone of the narrator is established as indignant; Montresor is a man who perceives that great injustices have been done to him, and he seeks revenge for them. His indignant side shines through in the very first sentence of the story: "The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could." This tone only amplifies as he swears revenge.

How does Montresor, despite his posturing throughout the confession, show himself to be a bit of a diminished man in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

When Montresor disingenuously tries to convince Fortunato to turn back, he says, "You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was." Here, Montresor is flattering Fortunato to appeal to his pride, but he is also revealing something about himself: he no longer feels respected, admired, or beloved; he is no longer happy. He goes on to say, "You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter." This reveals that Montresor is disenfranchised, most likely without family, given that the only people he had to trick away from his house were the servants. This interpretation is bolstered by the fact that Montresor's family used to be great and plenty but now all seem to be dead.

How does Montresor demonstrate his understanding of symbolism in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Montresor is clearly a man of marked intelligence; one can tell from his vocabulary, his ability to identify what motivates people and prey on their weaknesses, and his skill in storytelling. He is also a man who seems to value symbolism and irony. Where he could have simply stabbed Fortunato with his sword in the darkness of the carnival and left him for dead, he instead devised an elaborate plan that ends in Fortunato being walled in behind bricks. This act is symbolic of Fortunato's membership in the Masons and an apt act of revenge, given the possibility that Montresor is bitter over being excluded from the brotherhood. By murdering Fortunato in this manner, Montresor becomes a very powerful "mason."

What is the effect of the increasing darkness as Montresor and Fortunato move into the depths of the catacomb in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Just after Montresor reveals the trowel to Fortunato in "The Cask of Amontillado," the physical setting gets even darker than it was before. The men "passed on, and descending again, arrived at a deep crypt," where "the foulness of the air caused our flambeaux rather to glow than flame." The light that had been guiding them is now dimmed as the two men enter the depths of the crypt. The effect here is that the light, or goodness, is receding, and something evil is afoot. These details of the setting alert the reader to the increasingly dire situation in which Fortunato finds himself.

What is revealed by Montresor's reaction to Fortunato's failure to respond to his call at the very end of "The Cask of Amontillado"?

There are two possible interpretations of Montresor's reaction to Fortunato's failure to respond at the end of "The Cask of Amontillado." After Fortunato pleads, "For the love of God, Montresor!" he makes no other reply to Montresor. Montresor discloses that he "grew impatient" and then "called aloud—'Fortunato!'" two times. This impatience can be interpreted in at least two different ways. First, Montresor could have been enjoying torturing Fortunato so immensely that he did not want the fun to end; second, and more to Montresor's credit, he could have been yielding on his resolve to kill the man, hoping to hear his reply.

What does Montresor mean by his claim that "a wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser" in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

In the opening paragraph of the story, Montresor declares, "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser." One possible reading of this claim is that if he who seeks revenge becomes demented by the quest, he then has not achieved any revenge at all. This sentiment is in keeping with some of the era's warnings against being overtaken by passions. While Montresor executes his revenge plot perfectly and is never caught, he is, perhaps, overtaken by his pride in the end. The telling of the story may be a confession, an act of contrition, or it could be a reflection of his need for recognition—his deep desire to be known as a clever man whose perfect crime went undetected.

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