Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Cask of Amontillado

Go To
Yes, for the love of God...note 

"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 wrote 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.

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.

Aspects of "The Cask of Amontillado" were used in the adaptation of "The Black Cat" in Tales of Terror.

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.
  • Ambiguous Situation: One of the most discussed aspects of the story is the end when Fortunato gives Montresor no final response before he is walled up completely. Is he too terrified? Or is he refusing to give Montresor any final satisfaction over his death? Or is he already dead? Even Montresor himself doesn't seem to know.
  • 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 Montresor does before sealing his tomb for good is to drop in a burning torch.
    • May instead be a Mercy Kill, as the torch makes it far more likely Fortunato will asphyxiate.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Montresor is the scion of an ancient noble family.
  • Asshole Victim: At least this is what Montresor claims Fortunato is. We get no info on any supposed insults and Montresor is not exactly the most reliable narrator. Though if the narration of the events being told is more accurate than the imagined slight, Fortunato is at the very least a rather obnoxious drunkard and isn't above mocking Montresor for not being a Freemason.
  • Author Appeal: Being Buried Alive is the plot of one of Poe's most famous stories.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: 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.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Fortunato doesn’t seem to remember what he even did to incur Montresor’s wrath. Interestingly, the trope’s use here is not to highlight Fortunato’s callousness or carelessness, but to emphasize that Montresor has been making a big deal out of nothing this whole time.
  • The Cake Is a Lie: Clearly there is no pipe of Amontillado; Montresor is lying to lure him there.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Montresor has a very dry, cruel wit. When Fortunato experiences a coughing fit:
    Montresor: My poor friend found it impossible to reply for many minutes.
  • Defiant to the End: It is subtle, but Fortunato manages to pull this on Montresor as his last act. After Montresor mocks his cry of "For the love of God, Montresor!", Fortunato notably falls completely silent. The moment is essentially Fortunato realizing that dooming him to a slow death is only his murderer's secondary objective; what Montresor actually wants is the satisfaction of hearing him begging and pleading for his life until the end while he gloats at and humiliates him. And correctly enough, Montresor's narration betrays the fact that he is indeed greatly annoyed and even a bit psyched out by Fortunato's sudden silence, so much so that he tries calling out his name twice, only to be further frustrated when no reply is forthcoming.
  • Designated Hero/Designated Villain: Intentionally invoked. The designations are made by a very Unreliable Narrator. Montresor repeatedly muses on Fortunato'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. Whatever it was, it's unlikely it warranted this response.
  • Downer Ending: Montresor gets away with murdering Fortunato scot-free.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Fortunato is already drunk at Carnival 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 than a good-old-fashioned villainous gloat session. Notably though, in the story, Fortunato actually comes to the realization that this is actually what Montresor wants. Montresor doesn't want to murder Fortunato as much as he wants the psychological satisfaction of mocking his anguished cries as it dawns on him that he was easily tricked into dying a slow death. In a final act of defiance, Fortunato refuses to play along, and replaces his panic with cold silence. This silence catches Montresor off-balance, and it's evident from narration that he was very confused and annoyed at being robbed of the chance to gloat properly. He even begins to feel "sick at heart" about what he is doing, because the sudden silence gives him no recourse but to actually consider the gravity of the act he is about to carry out. Even those fifty years later, there are still clear hints of Montresor being somewhat bitter about the fact Fortunato managed to outwit him at the end by taking all the fun out of his revenge.
  • Evil Is Petty: Montresor murders Fortunato in an extremely cruel manner for merely offending him (and quite possibly not even intentionally at that).
  • Faux Affably Evil: Montresor's behavior zig-zags between this trope and more genuine affability, though the former seems to win out. While Montresor's narration maintains a polite enough tone throughout, calling Fortunato "his poor friend" at several points, his jovial attitude towards Fortunato in-story — amicably joking with his friend and expressing numerous concerns about his health — is all an act to lure Fortunato further into the crypt.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • This exchange. Fortunato fails to realize there's something going on because he's so drunk.
      Fortunato: I the buried that repose around us.
      Montresor: And I to your long life.
    • Montresor does quite a bit of gloating while Fortunato is oblivious. Another exchange, in much the same way:
      Fortunato: I shall not die of a cough!
      Montresor: True.
    • There's also Montresor's coat of arms with the motto (in Latin) "No man attacks me with impunity". And not long after that, Montresor responds to Fortunato's claim he is not a mason (as in a Freemason) by suddenly producing a trowel from his coat, the very item he intends to use to wall Fortunato up in the crypt and something most people would not just be carrying around unless they intended to use it in some way. Really, the guy was dropping so many hints of what was to come that Fortunato arguably falls into Too Dumb to Live territory even with how drunk he was.
  • 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 stuff.
  • 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 and finishes walling Fortunato up before replacing the bones at it.
  • Ironic Name: "Fortunato" (Italian for "Fortunate") is a very ironic name for the guy who gets buried alive.
  • I Was Just Joking: Inverted. Fortunato tries to invoke this on Montresor — "Ha! ha! ha! — he! he! he! — a very good joke, indeed — an excellent jest. We will have many a rich laugh about it at the palazzo — he! he! he! — over our wine — he! he! he!" — in one of his last-ditch attempts at saving his life, but it fails.
  • Karma Houdini: Montresor gets clean away with murdering Fortunato and lives a good fifty years. Some adaptations remedy this. Invoked by Mortresor himself in the narration, stating that being this is a requirement for successful revenge.
    "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes the redresser."
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Fortunato repeatedly dismisses Luchesi as an inferior connoisseur of wine who "cannot tell Amontillado from sherry" when in fact Amontillado is a type of sherry, which one would assume a self-proclaimed connoisseur like Fortunato (even while drunk) would know. note  Additionally, the mere focus of the story is on Fortunato being willing to get drunk off his ass and chug expensive wine anyway, which is definitely not the actions of a great connoisseur.
  • 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.
  • Lured into a Trap: Montresor does this to Fortunato as he leads the man to his death in the vault.
  • Mirthless Laughter: Fortunato towards the end as cited above. He acts as though he's praising Montresor for his supposed prank, but it's obvious that he's now absolutely terrified at his impending fate.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Your buddy (maybe) insult you? Wall him up in a tomb and leave him to die. That's the ticket.
  • Narcissist: Hinted to be the case with Montresor. Not only does he possess a great deal of aristocratic pride, but he feels validated in killing a man over a perceived and possibly even entirely imagined insult.
  • Noodle Incident: Just what did Fortunato do that made Montresor feel it was necessary to take such a revenge? He never says. While the full nature of the "insult" may never be known, Poe scholars have narrowed it down to being related to class conflict. Montresor is the scion of an ancient noble family, while Fortunato appears to be "new money." Arrogant, vulgar, and ignorant of the manners of high society, Fortunato inadvertently slighted Montresor's family honor in such a way that could only be redressed through violent retribution. Some have even theorized that Fortunato made his money by fleecing Montresor or one of his fellow ancient noblemen.
  • Offscreen Villainy: Montresor claims that Fortunato has been generally horrible to him and the last straw was some unspecified insult. Onscreen, the worst he does is be a pretentious drunk and insult a couple people while wasted.
    • Some adaptations show a bit of what Fortunato did, for instance a 1953 radio play has him insult Montresor's distinguished swordsman of an ancestor and steal his girlfriend.
    • According to Montresor Fortunato "practises imposture upon (…) millionnaires" and is a man to be feared. This seems to mean he's a professional criminal.
  • 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.
  • Retired Monster: Montresor is relating the story to someone fifty years after the fact, meaning he has to be an old man by this point.
  • 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 (a large barrel of about 126 gallons) of Amontillado, a very expensive sherry, to lure Fortunato 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 death with little hope of escape or rescue.
  • Secret Handshake: Montresor is asked by Fortunato to give the Freemason's handshake, but cannot, since he is not a part of the secret society.
  • 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.
  • Suddenly Sober: The alcohol wears off fast once Fortunato realizes his dire situation and he begins screaming and struggling. Even Montresor is surprised by it.
  • 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 dehydration 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 Fortunato 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.
  • Wine Is Classy: Especially Amontillado, which is a complicated sherry that requires dual oxidation to give it a complex, savory flavor.
  • With Friends Like These...: Some friend Montresor turned out to be. Montresor also claims that Fortunato was also this, though it seems unlikely that whatever he did justified being buried alive.