The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe ★★★★☆ #ShortStoryReview

By Arthur Rackham - Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1935) Illustrated by Arthur Rackham, Public Domain, wikipedia

Primary Genre(s): Horror, Short Story
Published: November 1846 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book
Page count: 20
Format: eBook
Image: Montresor walling up Fortunato. 1935 Illustration by Arthur Rackham

My rating: ★★★★☆

Summary from Goodreads
The story is set in a nameless Italian city in an unspecified year (possibly sometime during the eighteenth century) and concerns the deadly revenge taken by the narrator on a friend who he claims has insulted him. Like several of Poe’s stories, and in keeping with the 19th-century fascination with the subject, the narrative revolves around a person being buried alive – in this case, by immurement.

My Thoughts
I am challenging myself to catch up on some classic short stories this year and I have been remiss in reading any of Poe’s work at all (shame on me!)… so I decided to start with one of his short stories. I find it hard to write a pros and cons list (my typical format) for short stories, so instead I will just share some things I thought about and learned after reading The Cask of Amontillado. Keep in mind, it is nearly impossible to talk about a short story without some type of spoiler. Heck, even the synopsis gives away the gist of the story… but with short stories it is often more about how it is written or what is not actually said that makes the story interesting.

  1. Amontillado is a variety of sherry wine.
  2. Immurement is defined as “a form of imprisonment, usually for life, in which a person is placed within an enclosed space with no exits”. Immurement is from the Latin words im (in) and murus (wall); thus, literally “walling in”.
  3. In the story, you never really know why the narrator is mad at the friend he buries alive. All the narrator states is that he suffered a “thousand injuries” and received unspecified insults. There are some hints that perhaps the narrator is jealous of the friend (whose name is Fortunato which is Italian for “the fortunate one”) and that is the impetus for the deadly revenge. So, in a way, the real mystery or horror of the story is more about why the narrator kills Fortunato, rather than the fact that he does it at all.
  4. The family motto of the narrator is “Nemo me impune lacessit” which translates to “No one attacks me with impunity”. Perhaps, based on the family motto, the narrator feels he must always take action against any perceived insult.
  5. You learn that the narrator gets away with the murder because the story ends with the narrator thinking about the dead man 50 years later.
  6. Themes included inebriation, trusting the wrong person, revenge, making bad decisions, and not understanding consequences of your actions.
  7. Stories about being buried alive were hugely popular in the 19th Century (most likely because it actually happened!) and Poe wrote about it several times in his work. This short story definitely explored the fear of death and fear of immurement. Click here for more information about taphophobia (the fear of being buried alive) and what methods doctors used in the 19th Century to prevent premature burial.

I read a few analyses of this story after I read it for myself and I have to say there are a tons of theories out there about what the story means, what it signifies, what the motives were, and how the narrative represents this thing or that thing. Is there anyone else out there (like me!) that thinks it could just be a simple story that Poe thought up and wrote down and that it really doesn’t have any deep, philosophical meaning at all? I always wonder what 19th century writers like Poe would think about the “analysis” of their works today. How many do you think would laugh and say “It was just a story!”?

All in all it was a super quick read (20 pages) and an interesting story. The writing style is typical for early 19th century books and will undoubtedly feel super formal to some readers today. I have no idea if this was a good introduction to Poe’s short stories or not, but I am glad I read it.

8 thoughts on “The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe ★★★★☆ #ShortStoryReview

  1. Excellent review. I have read several Poe stories but not this one. You’ve piqued my interest. I’m sure I can fit this short story into my reading soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t read them often either, but I decided to read some of the classics this year at least. And they are awesome diversions between books!

    Like

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