Murder in in “The Cask of Amontillado”
In “The Cask of Amontillado,” by Edgar Allan Poe, the setting is used extensively to draw suspense and create a particular feeling for the reader. The author uses the setting to convey plans and images. He uses the darkness of the night, walking through the catacombs, and the scent of niter, to paint the gloomy picture. The setting establishes a mood that foreshadows future events, giving a distinct movement from freedom to confinement. The setting in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” allows the narrator to carry out his plan by committing murder through his plot for revenge in a secluded underground cemetery.
The narrator opens the story with the plot for revenge and murder. Montresor has been irreparably insulted by his acquaintance, Fortunato. He wants the perfect revenge, in a measured way without placing himself at risk, so he decides to use Fortunato’s love of wine to carry out his plan. The setting was during carnival season where everyone was dressed in costume.
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Montresor, wearing a black silk mask and a thick cloak, approaches Fortunato, who was dressed like a jester, including a cone cap with bells. He tells him that he has acquired something that could pass for Amontillado, a light Spanish sherry. One could say that Montresor wore the black silk mask and cloak to hide his identity and conceal his murderous plot for revenge. It could be that he was trying to hide his identity, so people would not know he was talking to Fortunato, and that he was the last person to be seen with him. Montresor wants to get Fortunato to the secluded catacombs of his family’s estate, so he could carry out his plan for murder in secret.
Poe’s use of the secluded catacombs contributes to the feeling of fear and uncertainty.
Montresor takes drunken Fortunato into the crypt underneath his empty house to see his Amontillado. This is a ploy because Montresor wants to get revenge by killing Fortunato. He strategically planned for this meeting by sending his servants away to the carnival.
As Montresor and Fortunato walk deeper into the catacombs, they are getting further away from people and further into seclusion. They “passed through a range of low arches, descended, passed on, and descending again, arrived at a deep crypt, in which the foulness of the air caused our flambeaux rather to glow than flame.” (Poe) The further they travel deeper into the cold and dark catacomb, the air becomes colder and damper, making it harder for Fortunato to breathe. He begins coughing from the smell of the niter, “that hangs like moss upon the vaults”, (Poe) but accepts that the wine will be the antidote to his cough and continues walking. As they travel further through the catacomb, they see water trickling down the walls and see the bones of Montresor’s ancestors piled up along the pathway. Montresor completes his plot for revenge in the catacomb beneath his family estate.
There was a small recess in one of the walls in the catacomb and Montresor told Fortunato that the Amontillado was being stored in the recess of the wall. Fortunato, now heavily intoxicated, goes to the back of the recess which is “merely the interval between two of the colossal supports of the roof of the catacombs, was backed by one of the circumscribing walls of solid granite.” and that is where Montresor suddenly chains him to a stone. (Poe) Montresor begins to wall up the entrance to this small crypt, trapping Fortunato inside. Fortunato begins to scream in confusion, he moans, terrified and helpless as Montresor builds the first layer of the wall. As the layers of wall continue to rise, Fortunato is silent. He laughs as if Montresor is playing a joke on him, he calls out “For the love of God, Montresor!” Montresor fits the last stone into place and plasters the wall closed. He claims his heart felt sick because of the dampness of the catacomb. The narrator ends the short story with a Latin phrase meaning, may he rest in peace.
The setting created by Montresor was key in carrying out his plan to lure his prey deep underground where no one would see or hear as he executed the murder of Fortunato. He used geographical location as well as physical location to obtain his desired result. He disguised himself with the black silk mask, so no one would notice him as he conversed with Fortunato. He led him deep underground, during the carnival in a trick to seek revenge, and then chained him in a small confined area behind the stone wall with the intent of leaving him there to die. If these geographical and physical factors were not involved in the setting, these events could not have happened in secret as they did. Montresor’s dark character, filled with revenge, who had a heart as cold as the air in the catacomb, chose to commit a murder in a place inhabited by only the dead to fulfill his selfish desire of revenge.
- Poe, Edgar A. “The Cask of Amontillado,” Compact Literature, edited by Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell, Ninth ed., Cengage Learning, 2015, pp. 329-34.