Teaching “The Cask of Amontillado”
Use these “Cask of Amontillado” questions to focus on “The Cask of Amontillado” themes.
ELA Common Core Standards Covered
The following Cask of Amontillado study questions cover the following ELA common core standards for reading and writing. This is for your administrator, not your kids. Kids need student-friendly worded objectives.
- RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
- RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
- RL.9-10.3 Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
- RL.9-10.5 Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.
“Cask of Amontillado” Questions on Theme
Begin your discussion of Poe’s classic by examining revenge in “The Cask of Amontillado” and other “Cask of Amontillado” themes. Be sure to check out “The Cask of Amontillado” Teacher’s Guide.
1. Discuss revenge in “The Cask of Amontillado”
- Revenge in “The Cask of Amontillado” forms the story’s central conflict and central theme. The narrator begins the tale by defining the perfect revenge: (1) the revenge must go unpunished; (2) the avenger must make himself known to the avenged. Montresor then narrates the perfect revenge. Most readers want to know what Fortunato did to provoke Montresor to such a dastardly crime. It’s irrelevant. Montresor wishes to focus on the revenge, not the cause of the revenge.
2. What other themes are developed in “The Cask of Amontillado”?
- “Cask of Amontillado” themes include pride. It is Fortunato’s pride that leads to his downfall and Montresor’s pride that leads to his desire for revenge: (1) Fortunato is so enamored with his own ability to judge wine that he stops his celebrating in order to demonstrate his wine acumen to Montresor. In addition, he revels in the probability that Montresor had been duped by the amontillado dealer. Fortunato’s attitude as he walks with Montresor shows him to be pompous and careless with his words, lending credibility to Montresor’s claims of insult (of course Montresor is the narrator and slants things to favor himself). (2) Montresor’s finding offense and insult in the babblings of a drunk buffoon show that he too possesses insecurities and pride.
A Few More Questions
1. What role does deception play in the narrative?
- Another prevalent “Cask of Amontillado” theme is deception. “The Cask of Amontillado” contains several examples of verbal irony which serve to deceive Fortunato and portray the narrator as cold and calculating: (1) Fortunato tells Montresor not to worry about his cough, that it will not kill him. Montresor replies, “True–true.” On the surface it appears that Montresor is consoling his friend. We know, however, that Montresor is certain the cough won’t kill him because he’s about to kill him. (2) On his initial greeting, Montresor says, “My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met.” To Fortunato he means it’s a lucky break that there is someone nearby who knows enough about wine to help. What Montresor really means is it’s a lucky meeting because he wants to kill him that evening. (3) Montresor continually shows concern for Fortunato, even imploring him not to go into the vaults, a deft use of reverse psychology.
2. In what respects is the narrator unreliable?
- The short answer is in every respect the narrator is unreliable. You didn’t come here for the short answer, did you? I’ll now give the long answer: 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. What is clear is Montresor’s tale only gives one side of the story. Everything he tells is told in an effort to justify his actions. Do we really know if Fortunato was a jerk? Did Fortunato really look as ridiculous as Montresor says? Does Montresor truly handle the situation in the calm manner he implies? We don’t know because we only get Montresor’s side.
Short Story Teacher’s Guides
Teaching the Reading Literature Common Core Standards are easy with short stories.
The Black Cat
The Cask of Amontillado
The Masque of the Red Death
The Most Dangerous Game
The Gift of the Magi
"The Cask of Amontillado" is a story of revenge, but the reader is never told exactly what Fortunato did to warrant such vengeance. In fact, throughout the story, the reader gradually realizes that Montresor is an unreliable narrator; that whatever insult Montresor believes Fortunato committed is probably imagined or exaggerated. It's certain that Fortunato has no idea of Montresor's anger, and this makes the story even more tragic and frightening. The seemingly happy jangling of the bells on the top of Fortunato's cap become more and more sad the deeper the two venture into the catacombs.
In the beginning of the story, Montresor defines revenge. He says he must "punish with impunity." He states if the avenger is caught, or does not make the punishment known to he who committed the wrong, the wrong goes unavenged.
With this in mind, he sets the trap for Fortunato. He gives Fortunato numerous opportunities to back out, using the tricks of classic conmen by playing on Fortunato's greed and pride. In fact, it is Fortunato who insists they carry on to find the Amontillado, and this will no doubt torture him as he is buried alive. Montresor also provides hints as to what he plans to do with Fortunato. He seemingly miraculously comes up with a cask of Amontillado during carnival, which Fortunato can scarcely believe. He tells Fortunato, "You are a man to be missed," and after Fortunato says he won't die of a cough, Montresor agrees. His family motto is "No one insults me with impunity" and he is carrying a trowel. Yet Fortunato suspects nothing, and is so shocked when Montresor chains him to the wall, he doesn't even try to fight.
The structure of the story places the events 50 years in the past. Montresor, perhaps on his own deathbed, is telling someone, perhaps a priest, the story, but not with any remorse. He still believes Fortunato wronged him, and at the end eerily says "In pace requiescat," or "May he rest in peace."