45 pages 1 hour read

Edgar Allan Poe

The Cask of Amontillado

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1846

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more. For select classroom titles, we also provide Teaching Guides with discussion and quiz questions to prompt student engagement.

Summary and Study Guide

Summary: “The Cask of Amontillado”

“The Cask of Amontillado” is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe that was originally published in 1846. Its genre is horror. This study guide refers to the version of the story printed in the 2006 Prestwick House edition of The Best of Poe.

The story begins with an unnamed narrator relaying that he has suffered great and many wrongdoings at the hands of a man named Fortunato. Though he never specifies the offenses, he does say that Fortunato, after untold transgressions, has finally committed the unpardonable by insulting the narrator (though again, the narrator does not specify the insult). The narrator addresses the reader in the second-person “you,” as though venting to a private, intimate audience, and explains that he will be avenged and will “punish with impunity” (161). He goes on to explain how he has given Fortunato no reason to suspect him, as he has continued to act cordially and smile at him, but he confesses that “my smile now was at the thought of his immolation” (161).

The narrator describes how Fortunato prides himself on his knowledge of wine, and he himself admits to also being “skillful in the Italian vintages” (162) (this indicates the characters are in Italy, but the narration offers no more detail about the geographical setting). At dusk one evening during the “supreme madness” of carnival season (162), the narrator approaches Fortunato, and the two exchange a hearty greeting. The narrator explains to Fortunato, who is drunk and dressed in jester’s motley for the carnival season, how he has come to possess Amontillado—a rare type of wine imported from Spain—but he expresses doubts about its authenticity.

After much persuasion, the narrator convinces Fortunato to join him in his vaults to taste the wine and test its authenticity. The narrator admits to the reader that, to ensure he would not be disturbed in his task of revenge, he told all of his attendants at his home not to stir in the house.

The two men pass down the long, winding staircase to the vaults and, at the bottom of the descent, find their way on the ground “of the catacombs of the Montresor” (163), at last revealing the narrator’s name.

Narrating, Montresor remarks to the reader on Fortunato’s state of intoxication, as the latter’s gait is unsteady, and his eyes appear filmy. Fortunato begins coughing uncontrollably, complaining about the “nitre”—potassium nitrate—that covers the walls of the catacombs and irritates his lungs.

Montresor feigns the suggestion that the two return to the fresh air, but Fortunato insists they continue in their quest. Montresor offers him Medoc—another type of wine—to ease the effects of the dampness, and Fortunato takes a long swig.

Fortunato comments that the family vaults are extensive, and Montresor admits that his family was “great and numerous” (163). Fortunato inquires as to the Montresor coat of arms, and Montresor explains that it is a gold foot in a blue field with the foot crushing a serpent “whose fangs are imbedded in the heel” (163). He also explains that the family’s motto is “Nemo me impune lacessit” (164), meaning “No one attacks me with impunity” (211).

As the men descend farther into the catacombs, Montresor offers Fortunato a flagon of De Grâve, a type of French wine, which Fortunato empties “at a breath” (164). Fortunato makes a peculiar gesture that Montresor does not understand. This odd gesture was Freemasonic code; when Fortunato sees Montresor’s puzzlement, he says that Montresor is “not of the brotherhood” (164)—referring to the Freemasons. Montresor assures him he is “[a] mason.”

Descending farther, the two arrive at a deep crypt, its walls “lined with human remains, piled to the vault overhead” (164), and Montresor describes an interior part of the crypt that is an interval between two colossal supports of the roof, backed by a wall of solid granite.

Fortunato unsteadily reaches the small niche, believing the Amontillado to be there, and Montresor proceeds to place padlocked chains—attached to the walls—around the drunken Fortunato’s waist without his notice.

Montresor uncovers building stone and mortar that he had hidden under the pile of bones and proceeds to create a wall with Fortunato chained and trapped on the other side, closed in. As Fortunato gives a “succession of loud and shrill screams” (166), Montresor momentarily hesitates. He places his hand on the solid wall of the catacombs and feels satisfied. He then proceeds to yell back at Fortunato through the wall, surpassing him “in volume and in strength” (166).

As Montresor begins to put the final stone in place, Fortunato begins laughing, thinking that Montresor has played a joke on him. Montresor places the final stone into the wall and plasters it up.

Montresor, now narrating, exclaims that against “the new masonry, I re-erected the old rampart of bones” (166), admitting that 50 years have passed since this event took place. Fortunato’s bones lie undisturbed.