Jennifer has taught 9th grade ELA and AP Literature for over 8 years. She has a dual master’s in English Literature and Teaching Secondary Ed from Simmons University. She is also a contracted freelance writer and certified AP Test Reader.
Our story opens with our narrator, Montresor, who is venting his rage to the reader about a man named Fortunato. It seems Fortunato has insulted our narrator more than once, but to which end we are never told. The story of revenge begins here, as Montresor schemes a plan to lure his victim down into the catacombs and bury him alive. Under the influence of wine, Montresor's plan is a success. The details of the story follow the two men on their journey of vengeance and death.
Since this tale was written in the 1800s, there is vocabulary within the text that may be difficult to understand or interpret. In this lesson, we will focus on seven words, learn their definitions, and analyze context to reinforce meaning.
- Catacombs (noun) is an underground cemetery usually accessed in the basement of old mansions and churches. There are many areas for tombs, crypts, and even piles where bones are laid in patterns or designs.
Montresor leads Fortunato through his home and down into what he believes is Montresor's wine vault. ''We came at length to the foot of the descent, and stood together upon the damp ground of the catacombs of the Montresors.''
Montresor takes Fortunato deep into the catacombs of his home to fulfill his plan of burying Fortunato alive.
- Amontillado (noun) is a type of wine called Sherry. Throughout the tale, Montresor lures Fortunato down into the catacombs of his home with the incentive of giving Fortunato a taste of this rare and delicious wine. While used in the title, the word is also used throughout the story.
Montresor says, ''My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking today. But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts.''
Montresor tells Fortunato that he may have a cask of this rare wine, and he needs Fortunato's expertise to help him decide if this is in fact the item. By implying Montresor will ask someone more knowledgeable about this wine, he manipulates Fortunato into agreeing to the task.
- Retribution is a noun that is defined as a punishment that is inflicted on someone in an act of revenge. Think of it like payback. In the story, Montresor seeks retribution because Fortunato has insulted him in some way.
In Montresor's opening words, he says to the reader, ''A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser,'' meaning Montresor is justified in seeking revenge because of the wrong Fortunato has done to him. This idea of revenge, or retribution, becomes a theme of the story.
- Impunity is a noun defined as exemption from punishment, meaning one is free from the consequences of his or her actions.
Montresor tells the reader that he, ''must not only punish but punish with impunity.'' He feels he is justified in his actions of seeking revenge and that he should not suffer any consequences because of the insults Fortunato has inflicted.
- Immolation is a noun stemming from the word immolate. To immolate means to kill someone as a sacrifice. This word foreshadows Montresor's evil plan.
In his opening lines, Montresor says, ''I continued, as was my wont, to smile in (Fortunato's) face, and he did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation.''
Montresor plans to kill Fortunato as a sacrifice for the insults that Fortunato has inflicted upon him.
- Nitre (noun) is the mineral form of Potassium Nitrate that is used in items such as fertilizers, gun powders, and fireworks. This word is seen several times throughout the story as the two men walk deeper into the catacombs. In this tale, niter is the build up of a white salt-like substance that is on the walls of the catacombs.
Montresor says, ''My friend, no. It is not the engagement, but the severe cold with which I perceive you are afflicted. The vaults are insufferably damp. They are encrusted with niter.''
As Fortunato begins to cough, they both reference the niter as the cause which could have been due to the humidity and dampness that persist the deeper they travel into the catacombs. The cough grows worse the farther they travel.
- Flambeaux (noun) can be described as a large candlestick with many branches to a torch with several wicks. In the story, Montresor ''(takes) from their sconces two flambeaux, and giving one to Fortunato, bowed him through several suites of rooms to the archway that led into the vaults.''
Montresor uses the light from the flambeaux at the end of this tale to peer in on Fortunato one last time before sealing him into the wall.
If we have learned nothing else from this lesson, at least we know not to travel into the depths of any catacombs with Montresor! While we learned about his journey into vengeance, we also learned vocabulary words such as amontillado, retribution, impunity, immolation, niter, and flambeaux. While these words are no longer in common usage today, they are words that can help us read Poe's chilling tale of The Cask of Amontillado.
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