The Confinement of Revenge, Guilt, and Family in “The Cask of Amontillado”

The Confinement of Revenge, Guilt, and Family in “The Cask of Amontillado”


“The Cask of Amontillado” is a short story involving two men and a counterfeit cask of rare wine. Montresor has begun seeking revenge with impunity as Fortunato insulted his family name. During a carnival, Montresor leads Fortunato deep down into his catacombs to sample Amontillado. This dark, twisted, and morbid read is not only seeping with descriptive words and flowing sentences, but one revolving around the subject of freedom and confinement. Montresor is confined by his family honor, and Fortunato by his compelling wine obsession. However, at the end of the short tale, Fortunato is still the freer of the two; despite being physically trapped.

Montresor’s first confinement can be examined in the opening line 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 591). When Montresor says he is vowing revenge, he is confining himself on two levels. Firstly, by using the word vow, he is literally marrying himself to the demands of revenge. Vows are extremely binding, and are commonly used in weddings. For better or for worse, Montresor is binding himself to the revenge of Fortunato. Secondly, revenge is an action that breeds more revenge. Not only is Montresor confining himself to the action of revenge, he is also confining himself to revenge’s vicious cycle – which will repeat itself even after Fortunato’s demise.

Moreover, Montresor is also confined by his family’s motto, “Nemo me impune lacessit” (Poe 594), meaning “No one wounds me with impunity.” During the era that this story was written, insulting someone’s family name was considered an insult of large magnitude. Interpreting not only Montresor’s family motto, but his family’s arms (a huge human foot of gold crushing a serpent whose fangs are embedded into the heel of the foot), shows that his family expects those who insult to be dealt with in a way that causes death. His family arm’s represents the situation Montresor is in perfectly; Fortunato is the snake, and the embedded fangs represent the insults. Montresor is represented as the golden foot. Since his family arms and motto expect for insult to be dealt with with such aggression, it confines Montresor to comply. His family motto and arms will perpetually exist, regardless of Fortunato’s state of life.

Another psychological confinement imposed upon Montresor is guilt. As Montresor is placing the last stone that is to wall Fortunato into a recess in the crypts, he “struggled with its weight” and “placed it partially in its destined place” (Poe 596). Montresor struggling with the weight of the final stone is highly symbolic of his guilt. As he struggled with the physical weight of the last stone, it showed that he struggled with the psychological weight of the state of affairs. Likewise, as he places the stone only partially into its destined place, it shows his ongoing struggle with guilt. His hesitance to place the final stone shows that Montresor really does not want to kill Fortunato, but his family motto and arms confine him to finish his quest. As Montresor “forced the last stone into its position” (Poe 596), it represents him forcing himself into a position that will cause him to feel guilt for a lifetime.

Lastly, the actual setting of the story represents the growing, unpleasant confinement that will be experienced by Montresor. As Fortunato and Montresor descend further into the catacombs, each consecutive catacomb grows with more nitre and moisture. Furthermore, as they continued on their journey, the catacombs grew smaller with “low arches” and an atmosphere growing with “foulness of the air [which] caused [their] flambeaux to glow than flame” (Poe 595). When the catacombs grow more foul and smaller, it represents the foulness of the situation and the intense foul confinement that will occur for Montresor. Moreover, the changing of the flambeaux from a flame to a glow represents the point of no return, in which Montresor is confined to his actions. A change from a flame, which is bright and optimistic, to a dark and ominous glow, shows the unpleasant confinement that is to be experienced.

Consequently, it can be seen that Montresor is truly the more confined person in this story – even after the death of Fortunato. Before the death of Fortunato, Montresor is confined with his vow to revenge, his family motto, his family’s arms, and the need to avenge his family’s name. Likewise, the setting of the play represents confinement on the physical level. After Fortunato’s imminent death takes place, Montresor experiences the adding confinement of guilt, which confines him to always think about, and feel bad about, his actions in the catacombs. This story is a prime example of the confinement revenge entails, even though one may feel as if they are liberating themselves with the actions of retaliation.

Work Cited

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Cask of Amontillado” Arguing about Literature: A Guide and Reader.

Eds. John Schlib and John Clifford. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2014. 591-596. Print.

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