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Edgar Allan - "The Cask of Amontillado" Review


English Writer 4 | -   Freelance Writer
Dec 06, 2017 | #1
A Dish Served Cold

Edgar Allen Poe's short story "The Cask of Amontillado" is perhaps literature's best example of the old saying "Revenge is a dish best eaten cold." The story's narrator, a man named Montresor, states his intention from the first: he plans to murder Fortunato, who was once his friend. The conflict between the two, which may or may not be entirely in Montresor's mind, is the focus of the story. Montresor believes that he has suffered a "thousand injuries" from Fortunato, ending with an unforgiveable, and unexplained, insult. To get his revenge, he plans to kill his unsuspecting friend, and to do it in a way that will let him get away with murder. The reader knows that by the end of the story, Fortunato, ironically, will be anything but fortunate.

Book Narrative StoryThe story takes place in Italy during the "carnival season," which Poe describes as a time of "supreme madness"-a term which also fits Montresor's plan, and possibly his mental state. On the outside, Montresor smiles and pretends to offer the tipsy Fortunato something he knows he will find irresistible-a chance to sample a rare type of wine called amontillado. Poe builds tension by having Montresor pretend that he doesn't want to inconvenience Fortunato by interrupting his carnival celebration just to take him to a dank, cold wine cellar. As Montresor intended, Fortunato laughs off any obstacles, while the reader wants to shout, "Don't go with him!"

As they make their way to Montresor's home, Poe adds several touches of symbolism and imagery. Fortunato wears the carnival costume of a jester, or fool, as he unwisely follows Montresor. Montresor, meanwhile, covers his face with a black silk mask and wraps himself in his cloak, the better to disguise his identity from anyone they pass, and to symbolically hide his true self from Fortunato. Nor does Fortunato think it odd that, when they reach Montresor's palazzo, none of his servants are there.

The suspenseful atmosphere builds as the two men begin to descend "a long and winding staircase" to the vault, which appears to be more family crypt than wine cellar. Fortunato's death is explicitly foreshadowed when he coughs in reaction to mineral deposits on the walls of the vault. Montresor slyly says that they should go back upstairs because his friend's "health is precious," correctly predicting that Fortunato will wish to stay. "The cough is a mere nothing," says Fortunato, "it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough." Montresor chillingly replies, "True-true." He knows exactly how Fortunato's life will end, and when. Poe offers an additional metaphor when Montresor explains his family's coat of arms to Fortunato as "a huge human foot" that "crushes a serpent rampant whose fans are embedded in the heel." The foot represents Montresor and the serpent is Fortunato, who has supposedly caused a treacherous injury. The family motto is an explicit warning: "Nobody attacks me without punishment."

When Montresor succeeds in luring Fortunato through a small opening in a stone wall, saying the amontillado is inside, he chains his friend to a rock, and Fortunato's fate is, quite literally, sealed. Montresor has stones, mortar, and a trowel ready, and proceeds to build the eternal prison. He adds tier after tier of stone, reminiscent of Dante's progressing circles of hell. Fortunato's last words are, "For the love of God, Montresor!" to which Montresor replies, "Yes, . . . for the love of God!" Fortunato's supposed sins are never revealed by Montresor, but his own sin is evident. The final irony may be that, while he tells Fortunato to rest in peace, he himself has apparently been unable to do so. Fifty years after his crime, he still thinks about it in vivid detail, and is compelled to write it down. He may never have completely left the catacombs-the place where, sooner or later, he will join Fortunato.

Work Cited

Poe, Edgar Allan. "The Cask of Amontillado." Google Books. Web.



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