Free «Edgar Poe "The Cask of Amontillado"» Essay Sample

Edgar Poe

In the story “The Cask of Amontillado”, Edgar Poe gives an account of an act of revenge, a somewhat manipulative relationship that persists all through the book. It is basically an audacious story with aspects of the pain of hate. In essence, the book is indicative of the consequences of pride that only go a long way in ensuring that an individual reaps a large and painful fall. This paper, therefore, seeks to identify the core themes that prevail in the story. Themes refer to the elementary as well as widespread inspirations that are emphasized in a literary work.


In the story, Poe explores the acts of Montresor, a person who seeks retribution on his colleague Fortunato, who has apparently insulted him irreparably. This is evident especially when he says that, “the thousand injuries of Fortunado I had borne as best as I could, but when he ventured upon insult, I wowed revenge” (Garrity 115-117). The story commences with a definition of a feeling of resentment that is held by Montresor against Fortunato. In this regard, the story explains that the man seeks revenge in a more or less impunitistic manner.

In search of a sherry with the name of Amontillado, Fortunato goes to his family’s mausoleum, where Montresor makes his wicked plan of plastering him into a sepulcher a reality. When Fortunato got ensnared, he was left to perish.

Throughout the story, Poe is very strategic in the way he uses the character’s names and costumes. This becomes very instrumental in setting of the theme of vengeance. This is because it becomes apparent that Fortunato, whose name closely resembles the words fortune and fortunate, is actually unfortunate. This is due to the fact that Montresor manipulates him and eventually buries him alive. Moreover, the fact that Fortunato adorns his jest costume that is full of caps and bells is an indication of the initial signs of him becoming a fool in the story (Poe 22-26). On the other hand, a black mask from silk that Montresor wears together with the roquelaire also hint that he has a somewhat dark manipulative personality, which is evident from his inhumane act mentioned above.

The theme of revenge is again emphasized by the setting used by the author. This is due to the fact that it begins with Montresor meeting Fortunato at a festival that is attended by all and sundry. This setting helps the readers understand what the mood of the story and predict the kind of actions that Montresor plans. This is because it becomes apparent that he has been harboring a grudge against Fortunato for some time, but Fortunato knows nothing about it. Furthermore, just as the festival begins, Montresor acts in front of Fortunato as if all is well between them. This is evident even as Montresor says that, “You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that gave utterance to a threat” (Poe 22-26). The story goes on with both of them heading for the Montresor’s family catacombs. At this point, the cold and evil feelings that are held by Montresor against Fortunato are represented. Eventually, it turns out that while looking for the rare sherry Amontillado, Fortunato finds his fate instead.


Another key theme that Poe explores in this story is betrayal. This is evident even as the betrayal of one of the characters initiates a hideous chain of reprisal; this is apparently performed below the ground in a mass grave. Behind all the revenge and death that is prevalent in the story, more often than not, the aspect of betrayal comes to the fore. All the relations people have are built on trust (Frank and Magistrate 64-66). However, in “The Cask of Amontillado,” the virtue of trust was thrown out of the window. Instead, betrayal was given preeminence. This is because in the absence of trust, betrayal takes centre stage. In this regard, the story has a lot to do with the lengths individuals strive to reach just to feel better in case of betrayal in their lives. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes when the same lengths hit murderous extremes.


Another prevalent theme that the author explores in the book is the one of death. This is, however, is strongly related with revenge. As the story progresses, there is a sense of urgency all through and the feeling that something sinister is likely to occur. The language of the story also provides a reader with the clue that the story has more to do with death than revenge. For instance, the narrator, Montresor, says that “I must not only punish, but punish with impunity” (Garrity 117). Additionally, he says that Fortunato did not think of his smile being at the thought of his immolation. The implication that such a language gives is that a murder is the intentional retribution (Bloom 28-30). 

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It is also apparent that Montresor seems to have planned his revenge very well. This is mainly due to the fact that he does not shilly-shally to execute once presented with the opportunity. As a matter of fact, he makes use of Fortunato’s perceived weak points against him very efficiently. Without doubt, he uses Fortunato’s love for wine to execute his downfall. Montresor seems very determined to achieve his goal and make certain the fatality of Fortunato (Bloom 28-30).

While the tone in the book remains somewhat light, the kind of descriptions that the author uses is quite shadowy. This is mainly because both of them converge at night, after which they descend into the dark, damp vaults - a situation that is reminiscent of death. This is very appropriate due to the fact that the vaults are also the resting place of members of Montresor’s family. It is, however, ironic that Fortunato is sick, yet Montresor still expresses apprehension over his health. It is also clear that it could be that Montresor is just leaving a way out for him, just in case his plan does not work. It may also be that he is just behaving that way in order to avoid the arousing suspicions of Fortunato. On the whole, in as much as Montresor presented Fortunato with a way of escape, even with his hesitation at the end, death happens to be the only way the story could come to an end. Murder is the eventual act of settling of scores, and mortality is Poe’s tour de force (Bloom 28-30).

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Freedom and Confinement

Another theme that Edgar Poe explores in the book is freedom and confinement. This is because for one character to attain the aspect of freedom, the other one has to die (Sova 42-43). As a matter of fact, a better part of the story happens in a vast and incredibly foul smelling burial chamber, more like an underground graveyard. The presence of dead bodies, or even bones, is prevalent (Sova 42-43).

As both characters move into the smaller and smaller sepulchers, liberty is also seen to be less and less of a likelihood. Each of the sepulchers is more disgusting than the previous one. In many ways, the kind of confinement that the characters undergo makes any reader, as well as the characters, appreciate the lusciousness of fresh air (Sova 42-43). Additionally, it makes a reader think more deeply about what it entails to be trapped as well as what makes one to feel free.

Foolishness and Folly

In life, it is unfortunate that foolishness is able to cost an individual his/her life. In “The Cask of Amontillado”, human foolishness and folly are amplified in such a way that the extremes of both are so gruesome and brutal that they automatically become vices. Though the book has only two characters, by the end of the story, their combined foolishness ends up in pain and tragedy for both of them. Indeed, the tragedy is what makes an individual think more profoundly about his/her foolish ways. This is vital in the sense that such a lesson is able to help one to abhor foolishness, even in some symbolic way, like in the case of the two characters.


All in all, the Edgar Poe’s style of writing is very creative and well thought out. This is evident in the costumes as well as the setting. As a result, each and every aspect of the story greatly contributes to the explanation of the themes. Eventually, a reader learns that even the friendliest of people are able to go to the extremes of reaching a breaking point.


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