Teacher's Guide for the Cask of Amontillado
The Importance of "Cask of Amontillado" Teaching Materials
The thousand injuries of my administrator I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon a poor evaluation, I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitively settled -- but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish, but punish while having my evaluation changed.
It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given my administrator cause to doubt my good will. I continued as was my wont, to smile at his bad jokes, to provide "Cask of Amontillado" teaching materials with a "Cask of Amontillado" summary, and "Cask of Amontillado" analysis when he came for an observation. He did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation.
He had a weak point -- this administrator-- although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself on his connoisseurship of Edgar Allan Poe short stories, which is why he would be amazed by these "Cask of Amontillado" teaching materials with a "Cask of Amontillado" summary, and a "Cask of Amontillado" literary analysis, and be distracted while I buried a hatchet into his brain immediately after writing a good evaluation.
"Cask of Amontillado" Summary
Montresor doesn't like Fortunato on account of the thousands of injuries he has caused, injuries that he bears magnanimously, but when Fortunato resorts to insult...well, Montresor vows revenge.
It's Carnival in Italy and good wine is at a premium. Montresor uses stratagem to lure Fortunato into his underground vaults to exact his revenge, a revenge which must go unpunished, and a revenge that Fortunato must be made aware. In order to trick Fortunato, Montresor concocts a story about receiving a cask of Amontillado and not being sure if he has been duped. Fortunato, ever so happy to display his wine wisdom, agrees to accompany Montresor into the catacombs under his house to test the wine.
In addition to Fortunato's eagerness, there are two things that allow Montresor's plan to succeed: (1) Fortunato is extremely drunk. Not only is it apparent that he has been drinking heavily at the Carnival celebration, a rather common activity for this time of year, he continues to drink heavily as the two proceed toward the Amontillado. (2) Montresor is a master of reverse psychology and irony. Numerous times, he cautions Fortunato about his cough and declares his wish to go to Luchesi--whom we know little of other than Fortunato thinks he's an ignoramus. This mention of Fortunato's rival makes him all the more eager to prove Montresor's imbecility in buying Amontillado from a huckster.
The two proceed down the ancient corridor when, suddenly, Montresor chains Fortunato to a wall, where he has remained ever since.
Cask of Amontillado Literary Analysis
Characters: The question that must be answered is what exactly, if anything, does Fortunato do to cause such hatred in Montresor. The two exchange lively banter in the catacombs, yet nothing is revealed in regards to the insult needed to be avenged. (I just want you all to know that if you insult me and I chain you to a wall in the catacombs under my house, I'll at least tell you why before I put in the last brick.) There is ample evidence to suggest that Fortunato is a pompous ass and capable of insult. There is ample evidence, also, that Montresor is a whack job and could have murdered Fortunato for no reason. In addition, there is ample evidence that Montresor is a big enough whack job to make up the entire story...of course, there's evidence that he is a big enough whack job to do exactly what he describes.
Theme: Poe lays out for his reader the perfect revenge: (1) The vengeful act must go unpunished; (2) The avenged must know who is the avenger. The calculating manner in which Montresor carries out his perfect revenge is enough to cause hesitation when insulting my friends.
Setting: The story's success relies, in part, on its setting. The anything goes frivolity of Carnival season juxtaposed with the seriousness and gravity of the catacombs creates a perfect contrast for the murder.
Mood: Although Carnival season is a time for celebration, Poe describes the costumes in a manner that elicits a shudder. The dank catacombs establish a perfect mood for that special someone in your life you've been wanting to diabolically murder for insulting you when you were nine (Yea, I'm talking to you Peterson. How dare you call me poopie pants!) without getting caught.
Irony: I have an entire article related to irony in "The Cask of Amontillado." Suffice it to say that this story presents a wonderful opportunity for teaching verbal irony.
Cask of Amontillado Lesson Ideas and Links
- Check out the Edgar Allan Poe short stories page and Edgar Allan Poe poetry study guide for ideas.
- Poe is the master of suspense. Adapt this teaching suspense lesson plan.
- "The Cask of Amontillado" makes an excellent story for teaching verbal irony. Do the following:
- Define verbal irony--when what someone says means something other than what it appears to mean. For example, Montresor drinks to Fortunato's health and long life, meaning the thought of Fortunato dying is worth celebrating. Fortunato of course thinks Montresor's toast is the traditional wishing of good health. Fortunato's stupid.
- Create a three column chart: (1) Label the left column "example of verbal irony" (depending on the class, you may want to provide examples; (2) Label the middle column "the apparent meaning"; (3) Label the right column "the actual meaning"; (4) If you desire, create an extra column labeled "how the example contributes to the story's theme."
- Instruct students to insult people all day without them knowing it. They may even administer death threats disguised as compliments.