The catacombs that Fortunato is led through are damp and dark, giving an eerie presence. The ancient catacombs are covered in nitre, the “white web-work which gleams from [the] cavern walls” (1), while the floor is scattered with bones, the air even having a particularly putrid smell. Such a mood creates both apprehension and suspense for the readers in the story.
“The Cask of Amontillado” is told by the narrator in the first person. This serves to make the “bone-chilling” events told in the story more realistic and easier to perceive. Had the story not been told in 1st person it would have been less down-to-earth.
Montresor’s close friend, Fortunato, is described as being a proud wine connoisseur yet a quack when it comes to painting and gemmary. Fortunato is also described as being rich, respected, feared, admired, beloved, and happy. As shown in the story, it can be concluded that Fortunato is enthusiastic, arrogant, foolish, drunken, and often acting in a ludicrous manner as well. Fortunato’s rather manipulative qualities explain why Montresor was so successful in laying his trap. Montresor succeeded in bringing Fortunato to his demise by getting him drunk and playing “friendly”, nothing more.
While the reader understands very little about Montresor, he is deranged or at least verging on being psychopathic. Montresor is cunning, remorseless, restless, and has been devoured by hate. The author, Edgar Alan Poe, is much like the characters he creates. They both have suffered and seek retribution, they may have extreme addictions or be mentally deranged, and they both have a troubling relationship with death as well as feel great guilt.
There are many possibilities for who Montresor might be addressing, if any, in telling the story. Perhaps Montresor is confessing to a Catholic priest as shown when he says “You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that gave utterance to a threat” (1). Another likelihood is that Montresor has written a letter or is telling someone close to him. Furthermore, the stories’ final words are in French: ‘In pace requiescat!’ (rest in peace), hinting that Montresor is either at his deathbed and is confessing or claiming yet another victim.
There are many instances of irony in “The Cask of Amontillado” including the character’s names and setting of the story. Fortunato’s name, for example, meaning good fortune, implies that he will have good fortune yet he experiences one of the worst possible fates. When the reader learns that Montresor dismissed his servants early by using reverse psychology the reader immediately notices something off about Montresor’s character, this is an example of situational irony. Another example of irony is the fact that both Montresor and Fortunato are dressed up in disguise for the Carnival yet Montresor’s true intentions are also disguised. A final example of verbal irony is when Fortunato is chained up and before leaving him to die says “Once more let me implore you to return. No? Then I must positively leave you. But I must first render you all the little attentions in my power” (2)
Though entertaining, I believe “The Cask of Amontillado” is not told purely for enjoyment. Rather, I believe it reveals some truth about people who are consumed by a desire for revenge. Montresor, who had been friends with Fortunato, was most certainly sane before these events. Whatever drove Montresor mad, is unknown, but him becoming a psychopathic murderer proves that revenge, when kept kindled, changes people.
One theme in “The Cask of Amontillado” might be that those who seek revenge are often left feeling guilty, or in some cases, unsatisfied. This is shown when Montresor first addresses the person to whom he is confessing the story on page 1. Montresor however, is gleeful in recounting this story and shows little remorse except for when he says “My heart grew sick; it was the dampness of the catacombs that made it so” (3). One can speculate that such events had a lasting impact on Montresor, though it is likely that Montresor has become more antagonistic rather than regretting his deeds. Another theme in the story is that life has a way of punishing the foolish and the drunk. This is shown as Fortunato’s lust for wine led to his demise, his last regretful words being “a very good joke, indeed…an excellent jest. We will have many rich laughs about it at the palazzo…over our wine…The Amontillado” (3). Fortunato, who still reminisces on the idea of claiming the Amontillado, has most likely realized his foolishness and learned this important lesson much too late.