The Cask of Amontillado
A narrator named Montresor describes how a man named Fortunato has offended him repeatedly, and now he wishes to get revenge for these injustices “without impunity,” noting that he does not want to have any consequences for this act. However, he does not reveal his hatred to Fortunato at all but instead continued, “to smile in his face,” secretly gloating over how Fortunato shall soon be dead. This man also has one weakness, which the narrator chooses to exploit, that Fortunato is an Italian who loves wine tasting, rather than paintings or gems, which he knows nothing about. The narrator declares that he, too, is a connoisseur of wine, revealing that even in this area Fortunato does not have him beaten. Events reach an apex one day during the Italian carnival season, when the narrator encounters a drunken Fortunato and eagerly shakes his hand, declaring deliberately that he has supposedly received some Amontillado wine, but he is not certain if it really is Amontillado after all. Being a wine taster, the drunken Fortunato quickly becomes interested, demanding to know more about this product.
However, Montresor adds that he is going to ask a man named Luchesi to taste this wine for him, to determine if it is really Amontillado or not. Fortunato insists that he go himself to taste this wine because Luchesi is ignorant, in spite of the narrator’s plentiful objections, adding that the wine is in the vaults beneath his home. Donning a black mask as is traditional during carnival season, the narrator leads his drunken companion who wears a cone-shaped hat with bells, to his home. There, he relates how “I took from their sconces two flambeaux torches, and giving one to Fortunato, bowed him through several suites of rooms to the archway that led into the vaults. I passed down a long and winding staircase, requesting him to be cautious as he follows. We came at length to the foot of the descent, and stood together on the damp ground of the catacombs of the Montresors” Poe, pg. 282. Gazing around, Fortunato begins coughing due to the nitre, or saltpeter, fumes that fill the air but refuses to go upstairs when Montresor expresses concern, who then says revealingly that it is true after all that Fortunato will not die from coughing.
The narrator then picks up a bottle of Medoc lying there in the wine cellar, adding that its fluid will cure Fortunato’s cough. Fortunato drinks to Montresor’s dead relatives, and Montresor toasts to his “long life,” adding afterward that his family’s coat of arms has a human foot crushing a serpent that simultaneously has its teeth sunk into its heel. He states also that the family motto is “nemo me impune lacessit,” or “Let no one challenge me with impunity punishment,” reflecting his own wishes earlier to receive no consequences for his act of revenge against Fortunato. Continuing past bones and barrels of wine, the nitre drips increasingly from the ceiling because there is a river flowing far above them, and this nitre, or saltpeter, is formed as a result. He urges Fortunato to return, but still this man adamantly refuses, requesting more wine; Montresor then gives him a bottle of De Grave wine, which Fortunato quickly consumes in its entirety, laughing and tossing the bottle into the air with an odd hand gesture. When Montresor is confused, Fortunato mocks him by saying “Then you are not of the brotherhood,” affirming the narrator’s continued dislike for him.
When he hears this “brotherhood” is called the “Masons,” the narrator eagerly says that he is, indeed, a mason after all, taking out a trowel, a tool used by stone masons. Fortunato responds that he is joking, and they must continue on to find the cask of Amontillado. Wandering deeper still in these tunnels, the men arrive in an area where “At the most remote end of the crypt there appeared another less spacious. Its walls had been lined with human remains, piled to the vault overhead, in the fashion of the great catacombs of Paris. Three sides of this interior crypt were still ornamented in this manner. From the fourth the bones had been thrown down, and lay promiscuously upon the earth, forming at one point a mound of some size” Poe, pg. 284. Beyond this fourth wall is yet another room, shrouded in darkness, and Montresor directs Fortunato to venture there to find the Amontillado that he so craves, as Fortunato criticizes Luchesi as “an ignoramus.” Entering this space, Fortunato proceeds only a few steps before realizing that there is only a wall there. But it is too late; Montresor quickly straps Fortunato to the wall with “iron staples” as is custom for a dungeon. Locking the padlock to secure this binding, Montresor tells him that the wall is soaked with saltpeter, which shall no doubt cause him some discomfort; Fortunato merely exclaims “The Amontillado!” excitedly, as the narrator uncovers a pile of cement and bricks from beneath the pile of bones lying nearby.
Row by row, he builds a wall of bricks to enclose Fortunato there, buried alive. He continues this task in spite of Fortunato’s intense screaming, to which he pays no attention, and when these screams persist Montresor merely screams back at Fortunato, mocking him. When the wall is complete except for one final brick, Fortunato’s sad voice issues forth from the room, laughing half-heartedly that Montresor has played a great joke upon him, and asks now that he be set free. Echoing Fortunato’s earlier words, he replies “The Amontillado!” to which Fortunato says “Let us be gone,” which the narrator repeats yet again back to him. Frightened, Fortunato cries out “For the love of God,” to which Montresor excitedly replies “Yes…for the love of God!” although there is then no answer to this for his prisoner. Thrusting a torch through the hole, he hears nothing except for bells jingling from Fortunato’s carnival hat. Overwhelmed by the nitre himself, Montresor inserts the final brick into the wall, sealing it in, and covers this newly erected wall with a pile of old bone. He then relates how even fifty years passes, and still no one discovers this murder, triumphantly declaring of Fortunato “In pace requiescat,” “May he rest in peace.” As desired, Montresor accomplished his deed of revenge skillfully and without impunity from anybody, as his crime remains undiscovered; nor does he feel any guilt for this deed. Instead, he is filled with a great sense of achievement and pride at having slain Fortunato.