"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."
Examples of Irony in "The Cask of Amontillado"
Fortunato means fortunate in Italian, an ironic name for someone about to be walled up in the catacombs.
Montresor's behavior toward Fortunato is described as follows: "It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued as was my wont, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation."
Montresor's first words to Fortunato are "My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met." Fortunato thinks Montresor means he is happy to see him because of his expertise. What Montresor means is the meeting is lucky because the carnival presents an excellent time for murder.
Montresor's continued efforts to talk Fortunato out of coming with him only serve to excite the latter and encourage his coming.
Montresor's instructions to his servants demonstrate his mastery of human psychology: "I had told them that I should not return until the morning and had given them explicit orders not to stir from the house. These orders were sufficient, I well knew, to insure their immediate disappearance , one and all, as soon as my back was turned."
Fortunato exclaims, "I will not die of a cough." Montresor responds, "true." It appears to be a hopeful statement. It's actually a wicked statement. He then drinks to Fortunato's "long life," which Montresor soon ends.
The conversation regarding the Masons demonstrates an ironic misunderstanding: Fortunato refers to the Masonic order, a secret society of brothers; Montresor pulls out a trowel, a reference to bricklayers. In that respect, Montresor is a mason.
Fortunato's last words before being chained to the rock are "he [Luchesi] is an ignoramus." In reality, Fortunato is the ignoramus, a chained-to-the-wall ignoramus.
Montresor's reaction to the crime he commits is described as follows: "My heart grew sick -- on account of the dampness of the catacombs." His heart grows sick on account of the weather, not because he just buried a man alive. That's ironic.
This article is meant to be a starting point to your own research and analysis. Did you find more examples of symbolism and irony in the text? Feel free to share in the comments.