Edgar Allan Poe "The Cask of Amontillado" Summary and Plot Overview

“The Cask of Amontillado” Summary

"The Cask of Amontillado" has been almost universally claimed to be an Edgar Allan Poe's quintessential short story.
Marissa L.
min read
Feb 16, 2023

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When you write your paper, keep in mind that "The Cask of Amontillado" is a prime example of what Poe believed a short story should be. It's concise and can be read in one sitting, but every sentence contributes to the story's overall impact. Poe uses rich imagery to convey the story's themes, and the ironies throughout the story add to the sense of foreboding and tension.

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“The Сask of Amontillado” Plot Overview

The story is told in the first person and littered with ironies including the names of the main characters. The plot is very simple. The narrator begins by introducing us to Fortunato meaning (fortunate one) who for many reasons has hurt and insulted the avenger by inflicting a “thousand injuries”.This is a simple story of revenge with a sinister but deadly finale.

Montresor, (in French “my treasure”) is the second character. His name gives the reader an insight into a man with a potentially overdeveloped ego and some subtle narcissistic characteristics; a person who holds grudges for an eternity especially if inflicted against his inflated ego.Montresor tells from the start that Fortunato has injured him repeatedly while also recently insulting him. Montresor can no longer live with seeing this man in his everyday life and vows revenge against Fortunato.

Montresor tells us from the start that Fortunato has injured him repeatedly while also recently insulting him although the precise details remain a mystery throughout the story  . Montresor can no longer live with seeing this man in his everyday life and vows revenge against Fortunato.

The tale begins with Montresor and Fortunato meeting at the night of the grand carnival, the party is in full swing and Fortunato is already merry from consuming too much wine, which later we will find out has dire consequences. Fortunato is dressed as a “motley”, which includes a jester costume and a cap with the traditional jingling jangling bells. This is yet another irony, as the bells will toll for all men eventually, and for Fortunato sooner than he expects.

As they meet, Montresor smiles at Fortunato with warmth for his lifelong friend, but beneath that charming smile hides sinister intention for the untimely demise that is to follow; Fortunato's entombment in the catacombs beneath Montresor’s vast palazzo. At the carnival, Montresor greets his friend with the words "you are luckily met." The reversal is true, as within a short time Fortunato will be entombed alive, never to be seen again.

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Montresor, in his deep desire for revenge, is set upon tempting his victim Fortunato back to his wine cellar to taste the unusual wine, Amontillado. He bates him by suggesting that he is looking for Luchesi, a local connoisseur, to confirm the characteristics of the rare wine.

Fortunato states that Luchesi is not a true connoisseur and would struggle to know the difference between Amontillado and a poor sherry. He offers to return with Montresor to Montresor's Palazzo where the pipe (almost 500 litres) of wine is stored in cellars, along with the bones of his ancestors in the deeper catacombs.

Montresor massages the ego of Fortunato by acknowledging his amazing palette for Italian wines of the many regions, but Amontillado is from Spain and is named after the Montilla region where it is produced. Montresor tells us, as the narrator, that he has planned this revenge with great foresight, giving all his servants the evening off to enjoy the festivities of the carnival. He  also correctly anticipates Fortunato's greedy thirst for the fine Amontillado vintage, showing to us again how clever he really needs to see himself in the reader's eye.

Both men arrive at the palazzo and quickly descend into the catacombs beneath, which run deep with many passageways to navigate. Montresor keeps Fortunato in a merry state by continually plying him with different wines along the way to finding the rare Amontillado. A tasty medoc passes their lips and also a rare Grave, both from the Bordeaux region in France. Both men drink and toast to the ancestors of the distinguished Montresor family buried in the catacombs. 

Little does Fortunato know that he is drinking and toasting his own demise. Fortunato notices a white web-like substance coating the walls, which Montresor tells him is nitre. In reality, the web is a symbol showing the reader that like a spider, Montresor has lured Fortunato deep into his lair with deadly consequences.Montresor even advises Fortunato to turn back as he has a bad cough because of the dampness, Fortunato claims that he will “not die of a cough” but as that is true he will die one way or the other this luckless evening.

Montresor and Fortunato keep walking deeper into the catacombs, with Montresor describing his long family lineage and his family's coat of arms, that of a human foot crushing a snake.

The family motto is yet another brick in the wall of the pending demise of Fortunato Nemo “me impune lacessit”, no one harms me with impunity. A conversation ensues regarding Freemasonry, to which Montresor claims he belongs to the secret order of Freemasons.

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Fortunato doubts his friend is indeed a Freemason, at which point Montresor produces a Mason's trowel which he has been carrying with him all this time beneath his long cloak. This is the same trowel he will use to carry out his dastardly and sinister revenge.

Eventually the two men come to a shallow chamber where there is a slight recess in the wall, just deep enough for two men to fit inside, “in depth about four feet, in width three, in height maybe six or seven feet”, and the perfect place for Montresor's revenge. Montresor tells Fortunato that the Amontillado is inside. The rear wall of the recess has two iron clamps on which is suspended a chain which looks too new and was recently fixed to the wall. Before Fortunato knows what has happened, Montresor quickly chains the drunken man to the clamps. Fortunato finds himself permanently fixed to the wall with his jester's cap still in place like a crown.

Montresor locates a store of stone bricks and mortar which he had prepared earlier in the day, and withdrawing his mason's trowel from under his coat, he started to cement the foundation bricks to wall up Fortunato within the slight recess. His intention is finally revealed as one of burying his “friend” alive within the catacombs beneath his palazzo. In doing this he will always be walking on his victim as his family motto describes.

Fortunato begins to scream out in vain, he is no longer drunk and has sobered up more than his aggressor but only very briefly pleads and not in any convincing way for Montresor to stop this silly charade and to let him go, surly sharing the Amontillado wine would be far more enjoyable for both men.

Fortunato first pretends to think that Montresor is playing a joke upon him, finally, he cries out, “For the love of God, Montresor!” but Montresor replies, "Yes, for the love of God!" and does not stop from completing his dastardly plan. Before he places the last stone in the wall forever entombing his friend at the bottom of the catacombs. He drops his flaming torch into the recess hoping to catch a lasting look of hope of reprieve from his friend’s eyes. Fortunato’s head has dropped to his chin giving one last chime from his jester's crown, the last laugh is with
Montresor as he finishes the last two rows of stones and ceremonially puts the last stone in place. Montresor was very clever in the planning and anticipation of all events leading to the demise of Fortunato, he wants us to admire his considerable intellect even if it is a diabolical intelligence.

Montresor completed his satanic plan of revenge and tells us the reader that Fortunato never saw the light of day again and while his body has been there undisturbed and undiscovered for fifty years in the catacombs. Montresor must be a very old man at his time at least over 70 years old is he confessing or is he still in the glee of the events that took place that unfortunate evening for Fortunato. We never find out.

Montresor's last sentence is a continuation of the ironic nature of this tale as he utters the Latin phrase, in pace requiescat: “rest in peace”.