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The Cask of Amontillado | Symbols


The Motley

When Montresor runs into Fortunato on the street, Fortunato is wearing multicolored motley and a cap with bells on it, which is the costume of jesters or fools in the old form of Italian theater known as commedia dell'arte. In the drama to come, Fortunato will be playing the part of a fool (and he certainly does, missing clue after clue because of his ego).

The Vault

As Montresor guides Fortunato to the vault where he supposedly is storing the Amontillado, he guides him through a literal place of death. This is the Montresor family crypt, where members of the family are buried. There is an actual mound of bones in this catacomb. While one could store wine in a crypt—the physical conditions are similar—one would not expect wine that was recently purchased to be stored far, far back in this catacomb. There is wine here, but it is also a place of death, and bringing Fortunato here foreshadows his fate. Given the strong association of wine with Christian communion, this can also be seen as a dark parody of the Christian story of reincarnation. Jesus was placed dead in a tomb but returned alive. Fortunato, though, is placed in crypt alive and never returns (except in Montresor's memories).

The Montresor Coat of Arms and Motto

The Montresor family has both a coat of arms and a family motto. These details are significant in themselves. They indicate the family is likely well established and noble (a fact that is reinforced by the size of the family vaults and the fact that Montresor has multiple servants). The coat of arms and family motto also have specific meanings. The coat of arms is a golden foot on a field of blue, crushing a serpent that is biting the heel of the foot. A golden foot underscores the family's self-perception: they are incredibly important (to themselves). Crushing the snake indicates how central revenge is to their family.

The Latin motto, Nemo me impune lacessit, means "no one attacks or injures me with impunity." This was the motto of the Scottish royal Stuart family, the motto of the chivalrous Scottish Order of the Thistle, and the motto of several Scottish regiments. Historically, Scotland fought against occupation by the Romans and the English. Some sources trace the origin of the motto to the Roman emperor Julius Caesar, who was killed by members of the Senate more so for his potential actions or threat to democracy than anything he had actually done. Like Caesar, Fortunato's crimes against Montresor remain vague.

The Trowel

The Masons were a widespread fraternal organization that started as a medieval guild (for stonemasons, as the name indicates), but it grew into a more general social organization. There is a long history of anti-Masonic suspicion, and many stories have circulated about it being a secret society and even a mystical one. These attitudes grew so strong in 1826 that the Anti-Masonic Party emerged as a political party in the United States. The paradox here is that Fortunato shows by his hand gesture that he is a member of the organization, but when Montresor shows the trowel, he shows he is (or will act as) a literal mason. However, because Fortunato reads this as a joke, he misses the clue that he'll be entombed alive.

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