"The Cask of Amontillado" Themes

Marissa L.
5
min read
Aug 2, 2021

The Cask of Amontillado by legendary writer Edgar Allan Poe is a chilling tale of revenge. Written at the end of Poe's life, the themes of revenge, substance abuse, remorse, delusion, pride, and freedom create a chilling story and possibly give us a glimpse into the author's mind. 

Revenge

Revenge can be considered the main The Cask of Amontillado theme. The very first line of the story is “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge." The next few paragraphs elaborate on what he considers revenge. He speaks of true revenge being one where the person taking revenge does not face any consequences, and the one facing revenge is aware of who has brought about the punishment. This basically outlines the entire plot, where Montresor carefully plans a murder where he will not be caught, and Fortunato will know at the end that it was Montresor who killed him.


Montresor comes across as a man who calculates and keeps track of every slight and insult towards him. Revenge becomes an all-consuming obsession after Fortunato commits thousands of injuries and insults upon him. Montresor never allows Fortunato to feel as if he has any dislike towards him because he knows that for his plan of revenge to work, Fortunato must trust him. So despite his intense hatred, he manages to put on a smiling and friendly face.


Part of the reason why the story is so chilling is that this is clearly a premeditated and in some ways unemotional murder. The audience is never really given any examples of what Fortunato did to Montresor, and at the end, Fortunato is also unclear of what he did to deserve his punishment.


It is interesting to note that Montresor’s family motto translates to "No one wounds (or "attacks") me with impunity." This implies that his family has always considered revenge an important element of their honor.

Delusion

Both of the main characters in The Cask of Amontillado suffer from different kinds of delusions.   Though Fortunato does come across as foolish, he is never shown to be intentionally evil. Montresor never elaborates on any particular incidents where he felt slighted by Fortunato and it is possible that he suffered from the delusion that Fortunato was trying to antagonize him when he actually wasn’t.


Montresor also lives in the delusion that revenge is a valid reason to murder someone, even when the perceived insults are not intense but just numerous. The story was terrifying for people when it came out because Montresor is a dispassionate killer who does not feel remorse and is never punished for his crime. Even as an old man he claims that he would have done the same again.


Fortunato on the other hand has delusions about his own importance. He considers himself well-liked and respected and does not realize that most people find him irritating. He is blinded by his own sense of self-importance. Montresor uses this to create a plot to lure him to the catacombs where the murder finally takes place. He also lives in the delusion that Montresor is actually his friend, a trust that Montresor takes advantage of. 


Even as the pair descend deeper and deeper into the catacombs, Fortunato is unable to perceive or sense danger. Even as he's being walled in, he Is unable to comprehend what is happening, eventually hoping that it is just a joke, before accepting his fate.


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Substance Abuse

The only drug that is mentioned in The Cask of Amontillado is alcohol but addiction is a running theme throughout the story. Montresor is addicted to revenge whereas Fortunato is addicted to feeling important and the intoxicants that make him feel good. The story takes place during Carnival, a time of drunken revelry when people are allowed to behave excessively.


The fact that Fortunato is known to love alcohol is an important piece of information for Montresor’s revenge plan. He chooses Carnival as the time to carry out his plan because he knows that Fortunato will be intoxicated. He uses the lure of a cask of Amontillado, a rare type of brandy, to convince Fortunato to come with him. He further makes sure to continue plying Fortunato with drinks along the way so that he stays drunk and does not feel in danger.


Edgar Allan Poe himself battled alcohol and substance addictions in his own life and many of his stories have the theme of substance abuse in it. In this case, however, it is not the main character who suffers from a substance abuse issue but the object of his vengeance who does. Written towards the end of Poe's life, The Cask of Amontillado themes, including substance abuse can be seen as issues he considered important in his own life. 

Freedom

Freedom is another important The Cask of Amontillado theme. Montresor wants to be free of his desire for revenge and believes the only way is to act upon it. Fortunato is literally walled into a small area at the bottom of a catacomb. It is interesting to consider why Montresor chose this method of murder. Apart from being the perfect way of hiding away a body, he may be motivated to take away Fortunato's freedom the same way Fortunato’s insults built up into an all-encompassing hatred that took away Montresor’s freedom of thought.

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Remorse

Remorse is one of the themes of The Cask of Amontillado that is somewhat complicated. Montresor is so fixated on revenge that he does not consider the emotional consequences of murder. After walling Fortunato in the catacombs, he feels a strangeness in his chest but attributes it to the dampness. 50 years later when he tells the story, he still does not regret his actions and is unapologetic. This is one of the reasons why people found the story so disturbing; the coldness of Montresor and the fact that he escaped punishment. In the modern context, it can be speculated that Montresor is a sociopath, an idea that still scares people in today's world.


Fortunato on the other hand has no opportunity that the audience is aware of to feel remorse. Montresor never tells him why he is exacting vengeance, and Fortunato is too self-deluded to reflect on the thousands of small insults. Both of the characters in the story do not feel remorse for their actions, but for very different reasons. Written at the end of Poe's life, this The Cask of Amontillado theme may be an insight into the great author's mind and his considerations of remorse. 

Pride

Pride, as the precursor to revenge, is one of the main The Cask of Amontillado themes. Montresor feels as if his pride has been wounded by Fortunato. Even though he is unable to state any particular instances, he still feels wronged and this is what motivates his desire for revenge. His sense of superiority may have caused him to exaggerate the offenses in his mind. Despite being wealthy he still does not feel happy and believes that his family's legacy and his own pride are the most important things.


Fortunato has a very different kind of pride but one that is just as silly and destructive. His delusional sense of self-importance makes him unaware of his status amongst people. He dresses as a clown for carnival as an excuse to behave like the fool that he actually is. Montresor uses the threat of asking a competitor to taste the cask of Amontillado as a way of poking at Fortunato’s pride and convincing him to go with him. Even as Fortunato descends deeper into the catacombs and his cough gets worse his pride does not allow him to turn back. 


What is the theme of The Cask of Amontillado? For once this question is easy to answer, revenge is clearly the most obvious and important theme of The Cask of Amontillado. Revenge does not exist by itself though and the other themes add context to the story. If you need any help with an essay about the themes in The Cask of Amontillado, or with any type of academic assignment, the experts at Studyfy are always eager to help.

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