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Poe’s Short Stories

Edgar Allan Poe
Summary

“The Cask of Amontillado” (1846)

Summary “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846)

To build suspense in the story, Poe often employs foreshadowing. For example, when Fortunato says, “I shall not die of a cough,” Montresor replies, “True,” because he knows that Fortunato will in fact die from dehydration and starvation in the crypt. Montresor’s description of his family’s coat of arms also foreshadows future events. The shield features a human foot crushing a tenacious serpent. In this image, the foot represents Montresor and the serpent represents Fortunato. Although Fortunato has hurt Montresor with biting insults, Montresor will ultimately crush him. The conversation about Masons also foreshadows Fortunato’s demise. Fortunato challenges Montresor’s claim that he is a member of the Masonic order, and Montresor replies insidiously with a visual pun. When he declares that he is a “mason” by showing his trowel, he means that he is a literal stonemason—that is, that he constructs things out of stones and mortar, namely Fortunato’s grave.

The final moments of conversation between Montresor and Fortunato heighten the horror and suggest that Fortunato ultimately—and ironically—achieves some type of upper hand over Montresor. Fortunato’s plea, “For the love of God, Montresor!” has provoked much critical controversy. Some critics suggest that Montresor has at last brought Fortunato to the pit of desperation and despair, indicated by his invocation of a God that has long left him behind. Other critics, however, argue that Fortunato ultimately mocks the “love of God,” thereby employing the same irony that Montresor has effectively used to lure him to the crypts. These are Fortunato’s final words, and the strange desperation that Montresor demonstrates in response suggests that he needs Fortunato more than he wants to admit. Only when he twice screams “Fortunato!” loudly, with no response, does Montresor claim to have a sick heart. The reasons for Fortunato’s silence are unclear, but perhaps his willing refusal to answer Montresor is a type of strange victory in otherwise dire circumstances.