The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe is a criminal’s account of a crime committed fifty years earlier. A crime for which he was never caught but now confesses.
The story begins with Montresor, the narrator of the story, explaining the reason for the crime. According to Montresor, the victim, Fortunato has committed numerous injuries against him but it wasn’t until Fortunato insulted him that he vowed revenge. Montresor then makes a statement that generates much of the controversy and discussion surrounding the story. Montresor says “You, who so well know the nature of my soul.” Montresor never tells us or defines the “you” to whom he is speaking and many of the interpretations of the story hinge on that one cryptic statement.
Montresor never gave any indication to Fortunato that he was angry with him or that he was seeking revenge because as Montresor states, “I must not only punish, but punish with impunity.” As a result, Montresor does not let anyone including his victim realize that he is angry to the point of vengeance.
Consequently, when Montresor meets Fortunato during carnival, Fortunato has no reason not to trust the smiling Montresor. Montresor studied his enemy thoroughly and knew of his weakness for good wines. As a result, Montresor used wine to trap his victim. He mentions to Fortunato that he has acquired a cask of Amontillado but that he is unsure that it is the real deal. He bemoans the fact that he paid the full Amontillado price without consulting Fortunato, thus playing on Fortunato’s pride.
Montresor then mentions that he knows that Fortunato is busy and that he is on his way to ask Luchesi to taste the wine, consequently, Fortunato’s competitive spirit comes to the forefront. Fortunato claims that Luchesi knows nothing and that he is the better judge of wine. Montresor protests that Fortunato is too busy for such an errand. Montresor’s protest is designed to increase Fortunato’s anxiety to go and taste the Amontillado.
Once Montresor feels that Fortunato is completely sold on the errand, he agrees to allow him to be the one to taste the wine. Before they move down the street, Montresor protects his identity by putting on a black mask and pulling a cloak around himself. Montresor arrived home to an empty house, just as he had planned. He had told his employees that he would be gone all night and that they were not to leave the house, thus ensuring that as soon as he was out of sight, they would all leave.
They make their way into Montresor’s family catacombs. The nitre lined walls cause Fortunato to cough and Montresor encourages him to forsake the errand and go home.
Fortunato says that “I shall not die of a cough” to which Montresor replies with irony “True-true.”
As they travel deeper, they discuss Montresor’s family motto which is “Nemo me impunelacessit” which translates “No one insults me with impunity.” They drink as they go along in order to ward off the chill. The ironic name of one of the wines they imbibe is De Grave. At one point, Fortunato asks Montresor for the sign of the masons which Montresor did not understand because he is not a mason. Then he produces his trowel, waves it at Fortunato, and thus confuses him.
When they reach the depths of the catacombs, Montresor tricks Fortunato into stepping into a small recess where he chains him to two staples in the wall and begins to wall him in. At first, Fortunato does not understand what is going on. However, he soon realizes his situation and begins to moan and test the chains. Montresor stops so that he can listen more easily to Fortunato’s dismay. When Fortunato quiets, he proceeds walling up Fortunato. At one point, he raises a torch to look inside the crypt and view his handiwork.
When the light falls on him, Fortunato begins screaming. At first, Montresor is alarmed, fearing that someone will hear the cries. Then he remembers the security of his position and joins Fortunato’s yells trying to yell louder than him.
Eventually, Fortunato becomes quiet and Montresor continues his task. Just as Montresor is about to complete the wall, Fortunato begins to laugh and make comments as if the situation were a simple prank. However, Montresor’s responses cause Fortunato to realize the sincerity of his actions. Fortunato begs for mercy “For the love of God!” but Montresor simply echoes the phrase and finishes the task. The last sound we hear from Fortunato is the jingling of his jester’s cap.
Montresor finishes his account with the phrase “In pace requiescat” or “May he rest in peace.”