Themes of The Cask of Amontillado
Deeply rooted hatred, revenge and other factors drove the main character Montresor in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” to mercilessly murder his friend Fortunato. Common to all of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, “The Cask of Amontillado” is a first person narrative giving the story an impression of being a confession from the character who had committed the crime.
At the opening of the short story, it is evident that the theme of the story would be about Montresor’s vengeance against the other character Fortunato, a wine connoisseur. The first line of the story clearly mentions the major theme of the story, “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.” (Poe 331). Montresor began his story by rationalizing the crime he was about to confess. He was emphasizing that revenge is the only way for him to attain justice and that the humiliation and the sufferings he had experienced in the hands of his friend Fortunato had consumed his patience that it was just fair to avenge all of Fortunato’s offenses against him would only be paid with Fortunato’s death. The character’s revenge was perfectly planned as it happened during the carnival season wherein merriment was in the air and no one would suspect that someone would be planning or be thinking of committing a dreadful act. Fortunato on the other hand, was also unaware that he will fall victim to revenge amidst the jolly atmosphere. Montresor had carried out his plan of revenge by using Fortunato’s weak point which was the man’s weakness for alcohol. He even prodded Fortunato to fall in his trap by mentioning Luchesi, who was also a wine connoisseur and a rival of Fortunato. Montresor’s devise for the trap to take revenge was the non-existent Amontillado which is a type of sherry and Fortunato had fallen into this very clever and very enticing trap. Montresor finally had accomplished his revenge against Fortunato when he had finally covered him in the wall wherein he had told Fortunato that the cask of Amontillado was hidden. The cask of sherry had turned out to be the casket for Fortunato and the consummation of revenge for Montresor.
Aside from revenge, other themes which are evident in the story are hatred, envy, deception, and pride.
Fuelling the desire to take revenge, Montresor’s hatred for Fortunato pushed him to commit murder. His hate apparently emanated from the occasion when he was disgraced by Fortunato. However, it was not clearly specified what had caused Montresor to hate Fortunato to the extent that he had planned and carried out his plan to murder his antagonist. His hatred for Fortunato was very profound that all of Montresor’s rationality had been blocked out and he was much blinded by this profound hatred that he justifies his crime to be right because it made Fortunato pay for the humiliation he had caused Montresor.
Another theme in Poe’s story is envy. Though it is indirectly stated in that Montresor was envious of Fortunato, it can be concluded that in some ways, Montresor was envious of Fortunato. One aspect that Montresor may have been jealous of Fortunato was that he was famous for his skill and taste in wine. Montresor sees himself a wine connoisseur but seeking the help of Fortunato proves that he acknowledges the man to be better in wines than himself and he was impliedly jealous of the fine skill Fortunato possesses.
Another aspect that Montresor may be envious of Fortunato is the power Fortunato has over him. Montresor was obviously treated many times like an underdog by Fortunato. It can be deduced that Montresor wanted to be equal with Fortunato though he claims that they are equal in skill with wine (Poe 331), Montresor seems to feel inferior to Fortunato since he is being treated like a subordinate by Fortunato.
Relative to the theme of envy in the story is the theme of pride. It is undoubtedly pride that Montresor had felt and one of the factors that pushed him to take revenge against Fortunato. He had deemed himself equal in wine skills with Fortunato and it had hurt Montresor’s pride when he had been constantly treated as a subordinate and ultimately he had been openly humiliated by Fortunato.
Interestingly, Fortunato also manifested pride in the story thus showing how his character as being capable of treating Montresor as inferior to him. In the story, when Montresor mentioned that he was about to consult Luchesi about the Amontillado, Fortunato reacted with great pride that Luchesi cannot tell the difference as though telling Montresor that he was the only one who can determine if the wine was an authentic Amontillado (Poe 333).
Throughout the story, another theme can also be pointed out. Luring Fortunato with a non-existent Amontillado and the manner Montresor had smiled and spoken with Fortunato were noticeably deceiving. The theme of deception played a big role in the story because it had supported the main theme of revenge. It was by deception that Montresor’s revenge was consummated when he had tricked Fortunato that he was in need of his expertise to authenticate his Amontillado when in fact he was really planning to murder him and that in reality there was no Amontillado at all.
The importance of the themes and the appropriate merge of the themes in this story helped in creating an interesting plot. The blend of the major theme and the underlying themes in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” were effectively used by the author to give the story a compelling plot which is haunting and quite disturbing to the readers making Poe’s short stories unsurpassed throughout the years.
Poe, Edgar Allan. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. London: CRW Publishing Limited, 2003.