EDGAR ALLAN POE "THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO"

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The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he insulted me I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I threatened him. In time I would be avenged; this was a point definitely settled but I would do it without any risk. I must not only punish, but punish without any danger of being punished in return. A wrong is not corrected when the avenger gets punished. It is equally not corrected when the one who has done the wrong doesnt know he is being punished.

It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued to smile in his face, and he did not guess that my smile now was at the thought of his death. He had a weak point this Fortunato although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine. Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit. For the most part their enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and opportunity, to deceive the British and Austrian millionaires. In painting and gemmary, Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack, but in the matter of old wines he was sincere. In this respect I did not differ from him very much; I was skilful in the Italian wines myself, and bought largely whenever I could.


Fortunato: an Italian surname (which means fortunate, lucky)
gemmary: precious stones
quack: a person who dishonestly claims to have knowledge and skills

. Answer the questions.

  1. What does the first sentence tell us about the narrator?
  2. How does the narrator want to revenge the insult?
  3. The narrator offers some advice on seeking revenge. What is his advice?
  4. Does Fortunato suspect that the narrator is going to punish him? Why? (Find proof in the text.)
  5. What kind of man is Fortunato? What is his weakness?
  6. What does this paragraph tell you about the narrator? Does he seem to have much respect for Italians? Which lines in the paragraph above reveal his contempt?

It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season, that I met my friend. He greeted me with excessive warmth, for he had been drinking much. The man was dressed like a jester. He had on a tight-fitting striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells. I was so pleased to see him that I thought I should never stop shaking his hand. I said to him My dear Fortunato, what luck I met you. How remarkably well you are looking to-day. I have received a cask of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts.

How? said he. Amontillado? A cask? Impossible! And in the middle of the carnival!

I have my doubts, I replied; and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter. You were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain.

Amontillado!

I have my doubts.

Amontillado!

And I must satisfy them.

Amontillado!

As you are busy, I am on my way to Luchresi. He will tell me

Luchresi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry.

And yet some fools say that his taste is a match for your own.

Come, let us go.

Where?

To your vaults.

My friend, no; I will not take advantage of your kindness. I see you have an engagement. Luchresi

I have no engagement; come.

My friend, no. It is not the engagement, but the severe cold you suffer from. The vaults are very damp. They are covered with nitre.

Let us go, nevertheless. The cold is nothing. Amontillado! You have been imposed upon. And as for Luchresi, he cannot distinguish Sherry from Amontillado.

Thus speaking, Fortunato took hold of my arm; and putting on a mask of black silk and drawing a cloak closely about my person, I let him hurry me to my palazzo. There were no attendants at home; they had joined the carnival. I had told them that I should not return until the morning, and had given them orders not to leave the house. These orders were enough, I well knew, to insure their immediate disappearance, one and all, as soon as my back was turned.

I took from their sconces two torches, and giving one to Fortunato, guided 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 followed. We came at length to the foot of the descent, and stood together upon the damp ground of the catacombs of the Montresors.


nitre:
impose: to take unfair advantage, to force something on somebody
catacombs: underground tunnels lined with the remains of the dead.

B. Answer the questions.

  1. How does the narrator explain the "excessive warmth" of Fortunatos greetings?
  2. Why does the narrator also greet Fortunato warmly?
  3. How does the narrator behave around his "friend" Fortunato? Psychologically, what effect might the narrator's words have on Fortunato?
  4. Why would the narrator repeat that he "has his doubts" about the Amontillado he bought? Earlier, the narrator states that he, like Fortunato, is a wine expert.
  5. What does Fortunato think of Luchresi (another expert in wine)?
  6. What words of Fortunato may be considered offensive by the narrator?
  7. How does the narrator manipulate Fortunato? Notice it is Fortunato, and not the narrator, who insists on going to the narrator's vaults.
  8. How are Fortunato and the narrator dressed? Why are they dressed like that?
  9. What instructions did the narrator give his servants earlier in the evening? Why did he give these instructions? What does this tell us about the narrator?

The gait of my friend was unsteady, and the bells upon his cap jingled as he strode.

The cask, he said.

It is farther on, said I; but observe the white web-work which gleams from these walls. He turned towards me, and looked into my eyes with his filmy eyes.

Nitre? he asked.

Nitre, I replied. How long have you had that cough?

Ugh! ugh! ugh! ugh! ugh! ugh! ugh! ugh! ugh! ugh! ugh! ugh! ugh! ugh! ugh!

My poor friend found it impossible to reply for many minutes.

It is nothing, he said, at last.

Come, I said, with decision, 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. We will go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible. Besides, there is Luchresi

Enough, he said; the coughs a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough.

True true, I replied; and, indeed, I had no intention of alarming you unnecessarily but you should use all proper caution. A mouthful of this Medoc will defend us from the damps.

Here I knocked off the neck of a bottle which I drew from a long row of its fellows that lay upon the mould.

Drink, I said, presenting him the wine.

He raised it to his lips. He paused and nodded to me familiarly, while his bells jingled.

I drink, he said, to the buried that repose around us.

And I to your long life.

He again took my arm, and we walked on.

These vaults, he said, are large.

The Montresors, I replied, were a great and numerous family.

I forget your coat of arms.

A huge human foot of gold, in a field azure; the foot crushes a snake whose fangs are imbedded in the heel.

And the motto?

Nemo me impune lacessit.

Good! he said.

The wine sparkled in his eyes and the bells jingled. My own fancy grew warm with the Medoc. We had passed through long walls of piled skeletons, with casks and barrels among them, into the distant parts of the catacombs. I paused again, and this time I allowed myself to seize Fortunato by an arm above the elbow.

The nitre! I said; see, it increases. It hangs like moss upon the vaults. We are below the rivers bed. The drops of moisture trickle among the bones. Come, we will go back before it is too late. Your cough

It is nothing, he said; let us go on. But first, another drink of the wine.

I broke and reached him a bottle of De Grave. He emptied it at a breath. His eyes flashed with a fierce light. He laughed and threw the bottle upwards with a gesticulation I did not understand. I looked at him in surprise. He repeated the movement a grotesque one.

You do not comprehend? he said.

Not I, I replied.

Then you are not of the brotherhood.

How?

You are not of the masons.

Yes, yes, I said; yes, yes.

You? Impossible! A mason?

A mason, I replied.

A sign, he said, a sign.

It is this, I answered, taking a trowel from beneath the folds of my cloak.

You are joking, he exclaimed, stepping back. But let us proceed to the Amontillado.

Be it so, I said, replacing the tool beneath the cloak and again offering him my arm. He leaned upon it heavily. We continued our route in search of the Amontillado. We passed through a range of low arches, descended, passed on, and descending again, arrived at a deep crypt10, in which the foulness of the air caused our torches rather to glow than flame.


Nemo me impune lacessit: No one can attack me without being punished
masons: Fortunato means the Masonic Order, a secret organization. Its members use special signs and words to recognize each other.
a trowel: a tool used to apply mortar or cement; one of the emblems of the Masonic Order
crypt: a room used as a burial place

C. Answer the questions.

  1. Why does Montresor entertain Fortunato with wines from his collection?
  2. In a few places on this page, Poe uses "foreshadowing," hints about things that will occur later in the story. For example, what is the name of the second wine Montresor offers Fortunato? Find some more examples of this foreshadowing.
  3. Which words of Fortunato might injure the feelings of Montresor? Why?
  4. What do the motto and the coat of arms imply about the entire Montresor family?

At the most remote end of the crypt there was another, less spacious. Three sides of this interior crypt were lined with human remains, piled to the vault overhead. From the fourth side the bones had been thrown down, and lay upon the earth, forming pile of some size. Within that wall we saw a still interior crypt or recess, in depth about four feet, in width three, in height six or seven. It seemed to have been constructed for no especial use, but formed merely the interval between two of the colossal supports of the roof of the catacombs, and was backed by a wall of solid granite.

It was in vain that Fortunato, uplifting his dull torch, tried to look into the depth of the recess. The weak light did not enable him to see where it ended.

Proceed, I said; the Amontillado is here. As for Luchresi

He is an ignoramus, interrupted my friend, as he stepped unsteadily forward, while I followed immediately at his heels. In a moment, finding he had reached the wall at the end of the niche, he stood stupidly bewildered. A moment more and I had chained him to the granite. In its surface were two iron staples, distant from each other about two feet, horizontally. From one of these hang 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 astonished to resist. Withdrawing the key I stepped back from the recess.

Pass your hand, I said, over the wall; you cannot help feeling the nitre. Indeed, it is very damp. Once more let me beg you to return. No? Then I must positively leave you. But I must first give you all the little attentions in my power.

The Amontillado! exclaimed my friend, not yet recovered from his astonishment.

True, I replied; the Amontillado. As I said these words I busied myself among the pile of bones of which I have before spoken. Throwing them aside, I soon uncovered a quantity of building stone and mortar. With these materials and with the aid of my trowel, I began to wall up the entrance of the niche.


an ignoramus: an ignorant person, a person who doesnt know anything

D. Answer the questions.

  1. Why do you think the narrator goes into such detail as he describes this scene? Why, for instance, does the narrator give the measurements of the "interior recess"?
  2. Why does the narrator mention Luchresi?
  3. Why does the narrator remind Fortunato of the nitre and again beg him to leave the catacombs?
  4. What details show that Montresor has carefully planned the murder?

I had scarcely laid the first tier of the stones when I discovered that Fortunato had in a great measure sobered up. The earliest indication I had of this was a low moaning cry from the depth of the recess. It was not the cry of a drunken man. There was then a long and obstinate silence. I laid the second tier, and the third, and the fourth; and then I heard the furious vibrations of the chain. The noise lasted for several minutes, during which I stopped my work and sat down upon the bones, so that I might listen to it with more satisfaction.

When at last the clanking stopped I took up the trowel again, and finished without interruption the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh tier. The wall was now nearly upon a level with my breast. I again paused, and holding the torch over the hole, threw some light upon the figure inside.

A series of loud and shrill screams, bursting suddenly from the throat of the chained man, seemed to thrust me violently back. For a brief moment I hesitated, I trembled. Taking my rapier, I began to thrust it about the recess; but in a moment I changed my mind. I placed my hand upon the solid stone of the catacombs, and felt satisfied. I replied to the yells of the man. I imitated his shouting, I shouted louder than he. I did this, and he fell silent.

It was now midnight, and my task was coming to an end. I had completed the eighth, the ninth and the tenth tier. I had finished a part of the eleventh, which was the last; there remained but a single stone to be fitted in. I struggled with its weight; I placed it partially in its position. But now there came from out the niche a low laugh that made my hair stand on end. It was succeeded by a sad voice, which I had difficulty in recognizing as that of the noble Fortunato. The voice said

Ha! ha! ha! he! he! he! a very good joke, indeed an excellent jest. We will have many a rich laugh about it at the palazzo he! he! he! over our wine he! he! he!

The Amontillado! I said.

He! he! he! he! he! he! yes, the Amontillado. But is it not getting late? Will not they be waiting for us at the palazzo, the Lady Fortunato and the rest? Let us be gone.

Yes, I said, let us be gone.

For the love of God, Montresor!

Yes, I said, for the love of God!

But to these words I listened in vain for a reply. I grew impatient. I called aloud

Fortunato!

No answer. I called again

Fortunato!

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


In pace requiescat!: May he rest in peace

E. Answer the questions.

  1. Explain the fiftieth dragons behaviour: It merely waited, hoping something would turn up.
  2. How does Fortunato try to save his life? (look through the text and name the stages).
  3. What does the narrator do when he hears the noise of the chain?
  4. Why does the narrator hesitate and tremble when Fortunato begins to scream? What does he want to do? Why does he change his mind?
  5. How do the narrators actions characterise him?
  6. What happens to Fortunato at the end of the story?

F. Answer the questions.

  1. What is the setting of the story? What mood does the description create? What does the author do to make the description vivid?
  2. Does Montresor let us know how Fortunato has insulted him? What do you think the insult might be? Does it matter?
  3. What do the names of the main characters mean? Which name is ironical? Why?
  4. Does Montresor have something of great value to him which we might consider to be his treasure?
  5. How does Montresor manipulate Fortunato? What does his flattery of Fortunato suggest may be his real motive for killing him?
  6. What kinds of irony does the writer use in the story? Find examples.
  7. Is the revenge successful? Why?