Literary Devices in The Cask of Amontillado

Irony: Poe’s use of both verbal irony and situational irony adds to the chillingly humorous and unsettling tone of the story. The irony in this story becomes more grotesque once Fortunato realizes that Montresor is trapping him within the catacombs; they both speak a series of ironic falsehoods about Montresor allowing Fortunato to leave when both characters and the audience know that Fortunato will die there.

Symbols: Poe uses symbolism in his setting to make the end of the story ironic. The vault in which Montresor traps Fortunato is an extended metaphor for the cask that contains the Amontillado, while Fortunato becomes a metaphorical symbol for the wine; Fortunato is symbolically encased in the very thing he sought.

Style: In situating the story in a letter or confession from Montresor to an intimate friend or confidant, Poe avoids having to use a lot of exposition. This forces the audience to determine the personalities of both characters from clues within their dialogue and Montresor’s distorted narration of events. The hidden nature of the two men’s relationship, Fortunato’s mysterious “thousand injuries” against Montresor and the lack of an omniscient description of both characters add to the ominous and uneasy tone of the story.

The Cask of Amontillado 16
"Luchesi..."   (The Cask of Amontillado)

Notice how Montresor uses Luchesi's name to incite Fortunato's ego and pride. When the dark and foreboding setting gives Fortunato a reason to turn back, Montresor's manipulation of his ego urges him to move forward.

"In pace requiescat!..."   (The Cask of Amontillado)

These words have also been read as a sign that the hate and pride, which may have caused Montresor to kill Fortunato, have devoured his soul and destroyed his humanity. When read in this way, the final line suggests that Montresor confesses this story as a form of repentance. The "rest in peace" then takes on a double meaning: as he has now told the story, both his conscious and Fortunato can rest in peace.

"I plastered it up..."   (The Cask of Amontillado)

Poe seems to have created an extended metaphor where the vault represents the cask and Fortunato represents the Amontillado. In the end, Montresor places the final stone to lock Fortunato in the vault forever, just as he would use a keystone to seal Amontillado in a cask. Thus, the figurative Cask of Amontillado becomes the literal tomb of Fortunato.

"roquelaire..."   (The Cask of Amontillado)

A roquelaire is an 18th century, knee-length men’s cloak that is worn over the shoulders. Poe juxtaposes Fortunato’s colorful jester’s costume with Montresor’s dark, villainous outfit, turning what could be a macabre story into one that’s slightly humorous.

"You? Impossible! A mason?..."   (The Cask of Amontillado)

Fortunato cannot believe that Montresor would be accepted as a Mason because of his social standing, making his accusation another one of Montresor’s “thousand injuries.” Montresor’s reply reveals more of Poe’s dark humor, as the pun foreshadows Montresor’s plan for revenge against Fortunato.

"True—true..."   (The Cask of Amontillado)

Poe uses dramatic irony to reinforce Montresor’s deceitful nature and provide some dark humor. The reader knows that Fortunato is not in danger of dying from a cold, but rather of being murdered by Montresor. Montresor’s consolation is just a ruse to lead Fortunato closer to his death.

"“Ugh! ugh! ugh!—ugh! ugh! ugh!—ugh! ugh! ugh!—ugh! ugh! ugh!—ugh! ugh! ugh!”..."   (The Cask of Amontillado)

Poe once famously stated that not a single word should be wasted in a short story. Here, then, his repetition is intentional: He uses it to emphasize how seriously the nitre is affecting Fortunado as well as the fact that Fortunado remains determined to sample the Amontillado in spite of his violent cough.

"imposture..."   (The Cask of Amontillado)

Poe uses irony to characterize Montresor as hypocritical. While Montresor criticizes Fortunato for being deceitful, Montresor himself is being deceitful by luring Fortunato to his house under false pretenses to murder him.

"to hurry me..."   (The Cask of Amontillado)

Notice how Poe abruptly ends one scene and opens another immediately in the next line. The reader is given the impression that the two men arrived at Montresor's palazzo with great haste and without any unforeseen problems such as bumping into a common acquaintance along the way.

"And in the middle of the carnival!..."   (The Cask of Amontillado)

Poe sets his story during the carnival season in order to give Montresor the perfect cover for his plan. Like everyone else on the streets of Venice, Fortunato is drunk and in a festive mood, which makes him easier to fool. The carnival also distracts the attention of any bystanders who might otherwise notice Monstresor leading Fortunato to his palazzo.

"I was skilful in the Italian vintages myself..."   (The Cask of Amontillado)

Fortunato knows that Montresor has experience and knowledge with Italian wines to purchase them without expert advice. Given that Montresor is a French name, Fortunado would also likely believe Montresor to not need his help judging French wines. These reasons are why Montresor uses a rare Spanish wine, the prized Amontillado, to appeal to Fortunato’s arrogance and lure him into his snare.

"with the aid of my trowel, I began vigorously to wall up..."   (The Cask of Amontillado)

Recall the earlier pun regarding Montresor's status as a mason and as a source of dark humor. When the pun is first presented, drunken Fortunato thinks his friend is being a fool. Now the trowel that he thought of as a joke is the instrument of Montresor's ruthless revenge.

"luckily..."   (The Cask of Amontillado)

Having learned that Montresor intends to take revenge upon Fortunato we know that this meeting is anything but lucky for Fortunato. Poe's use of situational irony here helps shape Montresor's character by showing the ease with which he misleads the victim of his revenge, whom he calls his friend.

"You, who so well know..."   (The Cask of Amontillado)

Poe has his narrator, Montresor, address his story to someone who already knows him in what seems like a confidential letter. Structuring the story in this way allows Poe to leave out a lot of exposition and allows Poe to avoid having to explain the nature of the "thousand injuries."

"thrust me violently back..."   (The Cask of Amontillado)

This creates interesting parallelism because earlier Fortunato had "recoiled" from, or been psychologically thrust back by, Montresor's gesture in "jest" of membership in Freemasons.

"You jest," he exclaimed, recoiling a few paces. 

"fourth side the bones had been thrown down, and lay promiscuously..."   (The Cask of Amontillado)

Review: What is this a hint or clue about; what does it hint that Montresor has done?