45 pages 1 hour read

Edgar Allan Poe

The Cask of Amontillado

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1846

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Symbols & Motifs

The Montresor Coat of Arms and Motto

The coat of arms depicts a golden foot in a blue field that is crushing the head of a snake, which turns back to bite the foot. The motto states, “Nemo me impune lacessit” (164), meaning “No one attacks me with impunity” (211). These are clear symbolic representations of Montresor’s defining characteristic in the story: vengeance. He feels attacked by the “thousand injuries of Fortunato” and is striking back with what he feels is a justified reaction (161).

One interpretation of the coat of arms and motto is that those who attack the Montresor family will be crushed—like the snake’s head—in equal measure. However, another interpretation is that the snake represents the Montresor family, and as it is being crushed, it turns on its assailant to bite back with equivalent force.

The Nitre as a Web of Deceit

The nitre is a symbol in service to the theme of deception; the chemical acts as a web that slowly traps Fortunato and seals his fate. Nitre—or “niter”—is a chemical called potassium nitrate that is released by decomposing bodies. In the text, Montresor describes it as “white web-work which gleams from these cavern walls” (163). Depicted as a spiderweb-like material covering the catacomb walls, the nitre symbolizes the trap Fortunato is slowly being wound up in.