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An Analysis of Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Cask of Amontillado'

CWanamaker enjoys reading, writing, and learning about the world around us.

Read on for a helpful analysis of "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allen Poe.

Read on for a helpful analysis of "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allen Poe.

"The Cask of Amontillado" Analysis

In November of 1846, Edgar Allan Poe published a short story titled “The Cask of Amontillado.” In short, this story is about a man who desires to get revenge on someone else because of the insults he received. The whole plot deals with the inebriation and, ultimately, the live burial of the antagonist, Fortunato. The most prominent theme running through this story is the theme of revenge.

Main Themes

What makes this story so popular can be seen in how it was written. It plays on the people’s fear of death and curiosity about live burial. It also plays on many people’s way of jumping into things and not thinking of the consequences beforehand. Ultimately, this story allows you to enter the mind of a murderer. This story also reflects many views of society in this time period.

From the very beginning of the story, even from the first line—“The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge”—the theme of revenge becomes apparent and obvious. Revenge is a popular subject among people, as much now as it was back when this story was published.

The reality of revenge is that it is impractical. Everyone has heard the saying, “two wrongs don’t make a right.” This is a true and relevant statement. One must ask themselves several questions before going about things vindictively. Is it worth going to jail over? Will it ease my pain and suffering? Is it just a good idea? In this story, the protagonist thinks carefully about the subject of revenge and the subject of his revenge: “I must not only punish, but punish with impunity.”

Main Character’s Motives

The motives behind the main character’s vengeful actions are, in his mind, very good ones. Even with clear motives, the leading character is still quick to think. I’m almost certain that he does not know the true consequences of his actions. He is too quick to act, and he acts with anger. His actions cause a sort of hurried, spur-of-the-moment action.

Historical Context

This reflects a possible way of thinking during the time period that this story was written. A great example of such rash thinking is the gold rush of the 1840s and 50s. The discovery of gold in this faraway land of California led to one of the United States’ biggest migrations. So it can be said that these migratory folk that traveled 2000-3000 miles were quick to act. They risked their lives, their families, and all of their possessions for a small chance of getting rich in California.

It wasn’t called the “gold rush” for nothing. People literally dropped everything to ‘rush’ to California for their chance to strike it rich. Depending on the situation of each person in that era, it would have, or would not have been, a good idea to travel to California for gold. Therefore, one could conclude that rushing to California on a whim is an irrational decision and is not thought out to the fullest extent it should be.

In Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” the character Fortunado drunkenly places his trust in Montresor, a man he insulted earlier. This leads to Fortunado being buried alive under a wall of brick.

In Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” the character Fortunado drunkenly places his trust in Montresor, a man he insulted earlier. This leads to Fortunado being buried alive under a wall of brick.

Fortunato’s Trust

Trust is an issue in this story. Fortunato, who had been insulting and offending Montresor to the highest degree, decides to foolishly trust him and accept his offer to go to his house and drink with him. This action of Fortunato, to me, seems absurd. If it were I that insulted a man and then was invited to his home to drink together, “[we] to your long life,” I would not trust him.

Fortunato trusts Montresor enough to drink past healthy drunkenness and to walk the dark halls of his house with him. Montresor even goes as far as to convince Fortunato to step into “the most remote end of the crypt.” It is there that Fortunato is shackled to the wall and buried alive under a wall of bricks. Fortunato’s misfortune was due to his trust in a dishonest and vengeful friend.

The Role of Alcohol

The one object that places the biggest role in the control and direction of the story is alcohol: “‘Drink,’ I said, presenting him the wine.” Montresor repeatedly gives Fortunato more and more wine, not because he is a warm-hearted man, but for the sole purpose of using Fortunato’s inability to be coherent with the world around him to lead him to his downfall unknowingly.

Montresor’s cellars are full of many types of wine, which only adds to the temptation to drink. Another fact is that Montresor seems very hospitable. He willingly gives his prized wine to Fortunato to drink. Fortunato willingly accepts for he cannot resist a free drink.

Fear of Being Buried Alive

The horror of being buried alive is a fear that nearly everyone has thought about at one time or another. It is the fear of this burial that Edgar Allan Poe plays upon. Instead of making the burial a quick and short-lived scene, Poe makes this scene exceedingly long and draws out the elements of fear. He prolongs the burial scene by first describing how he is shackled to the wall:

“He stepped unsteadily forward, while I followed immediately at his heels. In an instant, he had reached the extremity of the niche, and finding his progress arrested by the rock, stood stupidly bewildered. A moment more and I had fettered him to the granite. In its surface were two iron staples, distant from each other about two feet, horizontally. From one of these depended a short chain, from the other a padlock. Throwing the links about his waist, it was but the work of a few seconds to secure it. He was too much astounded to resist. Withdrawing the key I stepped back from the recess.”

This makes the story much more interesting and creates much more suspense for the reader. The word choice and writing style pull the reader in and consume them in vivid imagery and rich, detailed descriptions.

The Story Awakens and Answers Human Curiosity

Even 150 years after it was published, this story is still very popular. It allows the reader to envision the gruesome death of being buried alive. It fulfills the human desire to know about the unknown. It prods at, awakens, and gives and answer to human curiosity, at least the curiosity to know what it would be like to be buried alive. Again, Poe makes the burial a long and drawn-out process. He draws the burial out over several paragraphs. Until the final few lines,

“No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew sick--on account of the dampness of the catacombs. I hastened to make an end of my labor. I forced the last stone into its position; I plastered it up. Against the new masonry I reerected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat.”

Most people would agree that a slow death would be much worse than being killed instantly.

Montresor: The Mind of a Murderer

Many people fear death; it is something they don’t want to deal with. This story very much has a tone of death. Obviously, in the end, Fortunato dies. But it can also be said that Montresor dies too. He doesn’t physically die, but he is mentally dead. He goes as far as to kill someone in such a way that he did; his mind is obviously corrupt. For there are many ways to solve a disagreement—murder is certainly not a good way to do it.

Montresor had this murder planned from the very beginning. Every detail of Fortunato’s imminent death was written down and played out in Montresor’s mind. He perfected the method of murder. He was set on murder, and his mind could not be changed. Montresor was certain that murder was the right answer. By allowing himself to sink as low as to kill another man, he has allowed himself to die. In another sense, he has sent himself to death. If any authority figures find Montresor and convict him of murder, he could be put to death. I’m almost certain that an equal punishment for this atrocity in the 1840s would be death.

The mind of a murderer is an interesting thing to observe. It isn’t too often that one can read and understand the thought processes that a man such as Montresor makes. It is interesting to see what the killer does and why he does it. The more we understand the mind of a murderer, the more we will understand the anguish he goes through. We would also understand what causes this type of behavior.

Similarities to “Teenage Horrors”

Many similarities exist between the urban legends from the “Teenage Horrors” section of the Reading Culture book and “The Cask of Amontillado.” Like the urban legends, Poe’s story contains a killer and a victim. In this case, the killer is Montresor, and the victim is Fortunato.

Montresor disguises himself as a hospitable man to cover up his desire to kill Fortunato. Like the urban legend “Killer in the Backseat,” Montresor also waits until the right moment to prey on his victim. Although many similarities do exist, these two types of stories are very different from each other.

Social Context

“The Cask of Amontillado” reflects and shows some of the societal views of the late 1840s. For one, alcoholism was very prevalent in that past society. So it wouldn’t be surprising to anyone that a story from this era would have a driving force, such as alcoholism. It was generally okay for people to drink in that era, more so than today.

Secondly, gruesome deaths were very much a part of everyday life for the 1840s people. Every day, many criminals were put to death using the guillotine. In “The Cask of Amontillado,” a grim death is the end of a man’s life and the end of the story.

The theme of revenge is a major theme in this story. It isn’t often that a revenge story of this nature comes into the hands of readers. “The Cask of Amontillado” is a very popular story for many reasons. Even today, over 150 years after it was published, it is still being read. It is so eloquently written and has such vivid and detailed imagery. It also caters to most people; it has elements to satisfy everyone’s taste in a good story.

“The Cask of Amontillado” reflects a partial sector of society from the late 1840s. It has elements of fear, especially the fear of death and the unknown. It illustrates some people’s way of thinking, such as the fact that some people don’t think before doing something. It also allows the reader to enter the mind of a murderer, not only to read what he is thinking but also to understand what he is thinking. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cast of Amontillado” shall forever live on in people’s hearts as a grisly tale of death, murder, and revenge.

Video Summary and Analysis of “The Cask of Amontillado”

© 2011 Christopher Wanamaker


Richard Lynas on December 24, 2019:

I do not agree at all about the suggestion that Montresor’s actions were unthinking and spur of the moment, like someone rashly going off on a gold rush. On the contrary, his meticulous planning of every detail in advance, conveys to me the picture of a man who was supremely confident that he could take his grisly revenge and get away with it. And of course, in terms of any legal consequences, he did get away with it. What he did not allow for were the feelings of guilt that were to plague him for 50 years and which, I believe, led him eventually to confess his crime. Montresor reminds me in some ways of Lady Macbeth. ‘ A little water clears us of this deed’, she says to her husband regarding the murder of King Duncan. But it is easier to wash your hands of blood than it is to wash away the stain of guilt from your conscience. And, as we know, the burden of guilt led Lady Macbeth eventually to commit suicide. I think Montresor also carried a burden of guilt that he never anticipated. Indeed, I think that this is one of the key points that Poe is making. Unless a person is actually insane, and Montresor is not that person, it is not so easy to disregard the voice of conscience. Montresor admits in his confession that he began to feel sick at heart towards the end and had to force himself to complete the walling in of his helpless victim. He claims that it was just the damp getting to him. But his final words give him away. A completely evil person would never pray that his victim would rest in peace. On the contrary, I think that Montresor’s final plea suggests that he too wishes that he could find peace at last from the feelings of guilt that no amount of detailed planning of such a truly awful murder could obviate. On a smaller point, I do not think that Fortunato’s following of Montresor is a matter of trust. It is a matter of drunken pride. No one is a better connoisseur of wine than he is. And he will allow nothing to restrain him in his determination to prove it. Like Montresor himself, his overweening sense of pride is to cost him dear.

leinolua on October 16, 2019:

can you do me a favorite? i do not no how to analysis this story

Edgar AllAn Poe on May 30, 2019:

You spelled Poe's name wrong in the title. How can I take any of this seriously?

Emerson on April 01, 2018:

Should've include an MLA/APA citation

Bailey on September 27, 2017:

What is the symbolism of the word "Amontillado" as a wine would it be symbolic to the alcoholism back then or the crazed state of Montresor?

smith on April 24, 2017:

Thanks for the note it help me a lot in the school.i hope to see another story like this with this text analysis i love this topic.

Michael Slattery from Toronto on March 21, 2015:

Great analysis! I really liked how you made connections, it was very interesting to read. But, I don't think Montresor acted rashly or on impulses, because he planned this attempt to kill Fortunato. Remember he made sure that his servants would be out of the house and that there would be a spot to bury Fortunato in the catacombs. Also, he said he wished to punish with impunity, which means he wants to get revenge without consequences; therefore, he definitely did not act quickly because he would have had to think his plan out to ensure he did not get caught. I also really liked your comment about how Montresor, in a sense, is dead. That was really interesting and cool!

Fred Arnold from Clearwater, FL on July 05, 2014:

This is a very well thought out analysis. I did a hub (linked here: about hubris and the art of revenge. I used Hamlet, however. I portrayed the ideal of revenge as the far right to the "Golden Mean" in Aristotle's Virtue Ethics. In his ethics one must constantly act upon certain virtues. Hamlet acts upon his anger in such a way he truly embodies revenge. This can be juxtaposed to Montresor as well as the protagonist in "The Tell Tale Heart".

Also, Montresor speaks to Fortunato upon hearing Fortunato's cough, "...we will go back; your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter.", which gives some insight into what insults Montresor is referring to.

And last, to me the most important question to ask is how reliable is the narrator? Due to Montresors obvious mental break, he can be seen as an "unreliable narrator". This is a big theme in Poe's stories. "The Tell Tale Heart" is another one where the ambiguity is even more forceful. With that in mind, it is prudent to ask who is he talking to? For what circumstances? And why now? (Since he has not spoken of the murder in fifty or so years).

I enjoyed the read and shared on Facebook and Hubpage!

LastRoseofSummer2 from Arizona on June 28, 2013:

Have you ever heard Vincent Price reciting this story? It was part of his Evening with Edgar Allan Poe from 1970. Great Hub!

puddin tang on May 07, 2013:

the cask of A. is most definitely a great story indeed. i love the dark side of poe. there is definitely a dark side in all of us. if in fact someone does something so wretched to others then, they can only expect that the victim will exact revenge. that revenge may even be of equal or greater merit. i say that if you don't want others to exact revenge then follow the rule of do unto others... revenge is indeed sweet. i absolutely love it. if you crumble my cookies, then i will CRUSH YOUR CAKE!

Christopher Wanamaker (author) from Arizona on April 23, 2013:

Thanks for the comment. I consider this story to be one of Poe's best works.

Will English on April 23, 2013:

The first thing by Poe I ever read (well ok, first after the Raven) and I still love it. Good analyses. *voted up*

kylesanderson on November 19, 2012:

Very nice hub. Edgar Allan Poe is somewhat of an obsession of mine. Thanks!

Butthole on November 04, 2012:

Yes. on November 01, 2012:

Very interesting.

Kali on October 09, 2012:

What is the authors purpose of this story

DJJohnson on January 17, 2012:

This is a great story but you have missed so much in it. Revenge is the main theme but you say that Montessor acted quickly and rashly. This is very far from the actual truth. He had planned this moment for a long time evidenced by the preparations that he had to make in his crypt in order to carry out his plan. The alcove in which he imprisons Fortunato had to be built first of all because it was tall enough for the two men to stand in. Remember that this is a crypt, whose main inhabitants are dead and do not stand upright so there was no need for an alcove of this sort. Also, the bricks and mortar that are there ready to be used. These are not normal supplies that would be laying around on the floor of the deepest part of a crypt. Lastly, in the very first paragraph Montessor says, "At length I would be avenged," indicating that he was willing to bide his time in order to ensure that he attained his desire to "punish with impunity." This was a well thought out scheme drawn up by a brilliant and patient mind.

jen.borbe on December 28, 2011:

The story of Mr. Edgar Allan Poe was so great!—The Cask of Amontillado. I believe that this story was the way of saying that many people didn’t know how to deal with the inability to take revenge on their contrasting force. They seemed to hurt theirselves to an unreal level by taking into their life things like gambling and drinking alcohol to probably forget the pain. They probably seek an area that had to be better than the reality that they lived in.

From the very beginning of the story, even from the first line, “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upo insult, I vowed revenge,” the idea of “revenge” becomes clear. For me, revenge is a popular subject among people. The reality of revenge is that it is unreasonable.

We all know the saying,“two wrongs do not make a right”. This is TRUE and very important statement. Before doing about things cruelly, we must ask ourselves about what might happen to us or will it relieve the our pain and suffering? Is it worth going to jail over?

Many people fear death; it is something that they don’t want to deal with. This story very much has a tone of death. Obviously, in the end, Fortunato dies. For there are many ways to solve a disagreement, murder is not a good way to do it. Montresor had this murder planned from the very beginning.

Some writers seek an inspiration for their writings. But I do believe that Mr. Poe just expressed his life and own experiences.

AmberLeeCollins from KC on November 04, 2011:

Very nice. Have always been a fan of EAP -- even since I first heard the Alan Parsons Project album as a kid :)

To mercy on July 15, 2011:

I would say that Fortunato was a face about town and a drunken fool who would run his mouth about people at [and to anser your question] their expense and to belittle them for he's reputation and laughter.

Now at some point Fortunato has developed a mild dislike for Montresor maybe even jelousy that made him slander Montresor in he's drunken stoopers wether true or not.

Montresor's reputation must have been affected seirously in his town due to Fortunato's rants.

Im reading this from where is says Fortunato was a wine connousiour and a face about town, i know the type exactley, ok so we don't know the exact insult but Montresor is either a complete mad mam or a wronged one, i think he's probably a little dark, quite slanderd and definatly underestimated.

Make of this story what you will, that's what makes poe good but Edgar Allen Poe was not of the norm himself...

mercy on July 13, 2011:

what is the real nature of the insult in poe's story? Im little bit confuse why DOES montressors acted such a brutal WAY OF KILLING SOMEONE without any heavy reason at all.

IsaBbott from In the penthouse on June 25, 2011:

I wish I had the time to read this entire hub. A bit lengthy but I'm sure it's just as well written as the first two paragraphs. I WILL be coming back to read this.

Bloodline on June 23, 2011:

Love Edgar allen poe, a bit mad he was..

Revenge..well vengence is the lords and he will do it better than you, but you wont have the satisfaction so what do you do.

Do you murder someones entire family for one persons wrong, well that will stop any comeback's, but there are worse things than death like the loss of a child or loosing your all your limbs.

I belive some wrongs warrant revenge [a ritious kill] but only if your going after the perpitratior's, but then how does this sit with the rest of the family....?

There are too many variables to calculate as to how everyone's affected, that's why God does it best...

My view on revenge changed tonight [slightly] i use to be a Bloodline kind of man, a family for an eye, now im a head for an eye....i would like to be, a word in gods ear for an eye but im not there yet.

You could hate someone with every ounce of your soul, but like someone close to them with out knowing it, you don't know the person and you never will but if you did you would get on well with them, i know that's why the lord said "vengence is mine"

They say revenge is a dish best served cold.....I have come to belive and know that it's best served up hot, time changes people and circumstances.

It all comes round anyway.................

They also say if your planing revenge first dig two graves, i say if your planing revenge plan it then plan it again and again and again.

January Moon from NY, Now Living in Atlanta Ga on June 12, 2011:

I am a true Edgar Allen Poe fan, were both Capricorns and have a love of writing dark poetry and stories, voted up, great hub!