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Literature / The Cask of Amontillado

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"The Cask of Amontillado" is one of Edgar Allan Poe's best-known short stories, first published in the November 1846 issue of Godey's Lady Book, a popular magazine for women at the time. It tells of a gruesome murder from the killer's perspective, a situation Poe has written several stories about.

The story's narrator, Montresor, tells the story of the day that he took his revenge on his friend Fortunato. Angry over numerous injuries and some unspecified insult, he plots to murder Fortunato during Carnival, when the man is drunk, dizzy, and wearing a jester's motley.

Montresor lures Fortunato by telling him he has obtained a pipe of Amontillado sherry. He mentions obtaining confirmation of the pipe's contents by inviting a fellow wine aficionado, Luchesi, for a private tasting. Not one to be made better of, Fortunato goes with Montresor to the wine cellars of the latter's house, where they wander in the catacombs. Montresor keeps giving Fortunato drinks to keep him drunk, finally arriving at a niche, where Montresor tells his friend that the Amontillado is within. Fortunato enters drunk and unsuspecting, allowing Montresor to chain him to the wall.

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Montresor then proceeds to wall up the niche, entombing his friend alive. Fortunato sobers up faster than anticipated, though, and pleads with Montresor. Montresor ignores him and continues, eventually walling him in completely.

In the last few sentences, Montresor reveals that 50 years have passed, and no one has discovered Fortunato's fate.

The Tropes of Amontillado:

  • The Alcoholic: Fortunato. He has an affinity for wine and a love of drinking that ends up being his doom.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Fortunato suspects nothing of Montresor largely because he is drunk.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: "Really? There's a wine named Amontillado? Wow, I bet they named it after the guy in that Poe story!"
  • And I Must Scream: Fortunato gets entombed alive and left to die. In a moldy catacomb. With a nagging cough that may or may not be some kind of infection. And as if that weren't enough, the last thing Montressor does before sealing his tomb for good is to drop in a burning torch.
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  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Montresor is the scion of an ancient noble family.
  • Asshole Victim: At least this is what Montresor claims Fortunato is.
  • The Bad Guy Wins/Downer Ending: It's hard to imagine what kind of offence Fortunato might have committed that would justify Montresor's horrific revenge, so Montresor is most likely a Villain Protagonist. And he not only kills Fortunato, he gets away scot free.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Montresor claims that he patiently bore a "thousand injuries" from Fortunato until Fortunato finally went too far. Of course Montresor may not be the most reliable narrator.
  • Buried Alive: Fortunato is walled up alive in a catacomb.
  • The Cake Is a Lie: Clearly there is no pipe of Amontillado; Montresor is lying to lure him there.
  • Cult: One of the reasons considered for Fortunato's sudden wealth and popularity is the fact that he has joined the Freemasons, something he holds over Montresor's head when he finds out he's not a member.
  • Designated Hero/Designated Villain: Intentionally invoked. The designations are made by a very Unreliable Narrator. Montresor repeatedly muses on Fortunado's Offscreen Villainy, but never gets into the specifics of what he actually did, and the guy appears to be harmlessly affable (but then so does Montresor if you don't have access to his thoughts). Meanwhile our narrator, who goes out of his way to assure the reader he is Most Definitely Not a Villain, is the one very carefully planning murder. Not even a quick and clean death either, but a pretty nasty And I Must Scream scenario.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Fortunato gets buried alive by the narrator for some unknown insult of which he seems not even aware.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Fortunato is already drunk at Carnivale before he is lured to his doom by the prospect of taste-testing a cask of valuable wine. As he and Montresor walk deeper into the catacombs (used doubly as a wine-cellar), Fortunato is given more and more to drink, slowing his reactions to the revenge awaiting him.
  • Evil Gloating: A narration by a Villain Protagonist fifty years after the fact could hardly be anything less.
  • Foreshadowing: This exchange. Fortunato fails to realize there's something going on because he's so drunk.
    Fortunato: I drink...to the buried that repose around us.
    Montresor: And I to your long life.
    • There's also Montressor's coat of arms with the motto (in Latin) "No man attacks me with impunity". And not long after that, Montressor confirms that he is descended form a line of stonemasons. Really, the guy was dropping so many hints of what was to come that Fortunato arguably falls into Too Dumb to Live territory.
  • The Ghost: Luchesi, a fellow wine aficionado and acquaintance to both Montresor and Fortunato. Montresor lures Fortunato deeper into the catacombs by frequently claiming he'll get Luchesi to do the tasting, which only makes the latter want the Amontillado more because he thinks Luchesi is a drunk and won't be able to savor it.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: One of the motives for the murder considered by scholars is Montresor's envy of Fortunato's wealth and popularity. His sociopathy is shown clearly when he implies that he blames Fortunato for his fall from grace and wealth rather than himself.
    Montresor: You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was.
  • Hypocrite: It's pretty ballsy for Fortunato to call Luchesi a drunk who doesn't appreciate fine wine when he himself is hammered on the cheap stuff they serve at carnivals.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Montresor feels sick at heart after hearing Fortunato's bells jingle for the last time, but dismisses it as being caused by the dampness of the catacombs.
  • Ironic Name: "Fortunato" (Italian for "Fortunate") is a very ironic name for the guy who gets buried alive.
  • Karma Houdini: Montresor gets clean away with murdering Fortunato and lives a good fifty years. Some adaptations remedy this.
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: Montresor is telling the story of Fortunato's murder fifty years after the fact to someone "who so well know[s] the nature of [his] soul". Just who this person is has been left ambiguous.
  • Literal-Minded: When Montresor says "Yes, for the love of God, Fortunato!" Fortunato takes this to mean that he's doing it for his love for God.
  • Lured into a Trap: Montresor does this to Fortunato as he leads the man to his death in the vault.
  • Noodle Incident: Just what did Fortunato do that made it necessary for Montresor to take such a revenge? He never says.note 
  • Offscreen Villainy: What Montresor claims Fortunato did, anyway.
  • Oh, Crap!: It takes Fortunato a good long moment to sober up and realize that Montresor isn't just fooling around with him. The realization hits him hard just before the last brick is mortared into place.
    Fortunato: For the love of God, Montresor!
  • Pretentious Latin Motto: "Nemo me impune lacessit" as stated by Montresor, which translates out to "No one insults me with impunity". He made that clear when he buried a very intoxicated Fortunato alive.
  • Reverse Psychology: Montresor has made sure his servants leave his mansion for the night by explicitly telling them not to stir from the house in his absence, and he persuades Fortunato to keep going deeper into the cellars by telling him that he will just ask Luchesi instead, a man Fortunato feels is an inferior connoisseur of wines.
  • Sanity Slippage: It is almost universally agreed by readers and scholars that Montresor is insane in some capacity. Exactly how insane and how justified he is in his actions is left to the reader.
  • Schmuck Bait: Montresor uses his offer of a pipe (keg) of Amontillado, a very expensive sherry, to lure Fortunado to his doom.
  • Sealed Room in the Middle of Nowhere: Montresor lures Fortunato into the deepest point of his family catacombs, chains him to a wall, then bricks up the tunnel behind him, guaranteeing Fortunato will die a slow and agonizing deathnote  with little hope of escape or rescue.
  • The Sociopath: Montresor, probably. It takes a special kind of screwed-up to kill someone who seems to consider you a friend over an insult. (It's worth noting that we don't even find out what said insult was.) And it wasn't an impulsive, spur-of-the-moment thing done in a burst of rage, either — this is something that took a lot of preparation and planning, meaning Montresor thought this over for a good long time, and still went through with it. The killing itself is a truly horrific way to die, and anything but quick and painless. And he does this all with only a hint of remorse.
  • Too Dumb to Live: If Fortunato weren't so damn inebriated, he'd have caught on that something was up soon enough to probably save his skin. In fact, his implied perpetual drunkeness might be what put him in Montresor's bad graces in the first place.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Montresor claims that the insults he's borne from Fortunato were grave enough to justify chaining him behind a wall to die slowly of starvation or suffocation. He also thinks condemning someone to die in such a horrifying way is an appropriate response to being insulted. Worse, it's possible the insult in question was unintentional, or even entirely in Montresor's head.
  • The Unreveal: Exactly what the insult that filled Montresor with murderous rage towards Fortunado was, is never specified.
  • Villain Protagonist: Montresor intentionally leads his friend to a horrific, slow, terrifying end, all because said friend insulted him (note that the friend doesn't even seem aware that he offended Montresor at all). Our hero, ladies and gentlemen!
  • Visual Pun: Fortunato asks if Montresor is a Mason (of the Freemasons). Montresor doesn't understand, but says he is. Fortunato asks for proof. Montresor shows him his trowel.

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