February 17, 2022

#08-189: The Cask of Amontillado

Fortunato and Montresor drink in the catacombs

Note: Of Poe's many horrifying tales, this one has always stuck in my mind as the most frightening.

Get Ready: Have you ever been deeply insulted by someone? How did you deal with it?

The first line of Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "The Cask of Amontillado," alludes to an old saying about "adding insult to injury":

"The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge."

The obviously-mad narrator, Montresor, has invited his inaptly-named "friend" Fortunato (the name means something like "Lucky") to his palazzo during Carnival, when the man would be drunk and his guard would be down.

He does so by claiming to have acquired an especially fine wine, a sherry called amontillado, which he says is down in his wine cellar. In telling his story, Montresor makes the point that he maintains his wonted smile in front of Fortunato--but the soon-to-be victim doesn't realize that Montresor is smiling at the thought of his revenge.

In keeping with the spirit of Carnival, Fortunato is wearing the costume of a court jester, which adds a macabre touch to the story's ending. Fortunato is something of a wine snob, and Montresor is asking him to affirm that the amontillado is genuine. Fortunato can't resist the chance to show off!

Wandering among the walls of piled bones in the catacombs of the palazzo, they sample more wine. Along the way Montresor mentions his family's coat of arms with their motto: "No one provokes me with impunity."

Several times Montresor seemingly attempts to turn Fortunato back, claiming to be worried about his cough in the damp cellar. When Fortunato asks Montresor if he is a mason (a member of a secret order) Montresor says yes. Fortunato doesn't believe him, so Montresor produces from the folds of his robe a trowel--a mason's tool--as proof. It seems like a bad joke.

He leads Fortunato to a niche in the wall four feet deep, three wide, and six or seven high. Claiming the amontillado is inside, he asks the very drunk Fortunato to enter--and chains him to the back wall! He says that since Fortunato refused to leave when Montresor offered the chance, he would keep him there.

Throwing aside some piled-up bones, Montresor reveals stone and mortar, and begins to build a wall at the front of the niche. Fortunato has sobered up and begins moaning and rattling the chain trying to escape. Montresor enjoys his misery so much that he stops his work for a few moments to listen to the sound!

After some silence, Fortunato begins to scream, but Montresor is not deterred. Fortunato then suggests that maybe this is all a joke, and Montresor agrees--as he finishes building the wall and piles bones in front of it to hide the fresh work.

He is writing from fifty years later, and claims that no one has disturbed the bones since: "May he rest in peace!"


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cask_of_Amontillado

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. catacombs
  2. impunity
  3. jester
  4. macabre
  5. mason
  6. niche
  7. palazzo
  8. provokes
  9. snob
  10. trowel

  1. a small shovel
  2. without punishment
  3. an opening in a wall
  4. makes angry
  5. a "clown" who works for a king
  6. underground burial chambers
  7. horrifying; ghastly
  8. an arrogant person
  9. Italian for "palace"; a large house
  10. a person who works with brick, stone, etc.

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for February 17, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. f; 2. b; 3. e; 4. g; 5. j; 6. c; 7. i; 8. d; 9. h; 10. a