The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe Cultural Literacy and Background for Understanding (Presentation assembled by Brooke Allen)
“… but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.” “The Cask of Amontillado” is the narrator’s account of his ability to carry out a chilling plot of revenge against his offender.
Precision in time, place, and setting preclude the idea of risk and allow the narrator both the retribution he seeks and the impunity he demands.
Carnival is a secular holiday, but it evolved from the Christian observance known as Lent.
Lent is a solemn forty-day period of fasting prior to Easter.
Traditionally, the fasting during Lent involves abstaining from eating meat.
Modern interpretations of fasting may involve abstaining from anything one enjoys.
Carn + Val
FLESH (Meat) + FAREWELL
In anticipation of the solemnity of Lent, the celebration of Carnival evolved.
Participants engage in excessive and extreme behavior to bid farewell to meat-eating (and merriment).
What happens during Carnival?
Carnival is a time of EXCESS and INDULGENCE.
BINGEING upon food and alcohol is common.
Partying in the streets and masquerading are enjoyed.
The combination of alcohol and costumes creates an atmosphere where people tend to let down their inhibitions.
European Carnival traditions survive in the United States in the form of Mardi Gras.
“ The Cask of Amontillado” is set during the “ supreme madness ” of Carnival. In such a riotous atmosphere, it is easy to see how a crime could go unnoticed.
Lifestyles of the Rich Circa 1700-1800
The wealthy class enjoyed indulgences such as
Fine Wine (vintages)
Vineyards, where the grapes for producing wine are grown, create picturesque settings for owners’ estates.
The narrator plans for his revenge to take place in the catacombs beneath his estate. What are catacombs ?
Catacombs: Cities of the Dead
At a certain point in European history, catacombs, underground burial chambers, became a viable alternative to cemeteries.
Catacombs are characterized by extensive tunnels leading to chambers or recesses where the dead repose for eternity.
The wealthy could opt for family catacombs beneath their estates.
The narrator of “The Cask of Amontillado” carries out his revenge within the catacombs beneath his palazzo.
The narrator is able to lure his victim into the catacombs with the promise of amontillado , a fine sherry wine. (The l’s are pronounced like the l’ s in tortilla .)
The “supreme madness” of Carnival aside, why doesn’t the suggestion of a journey to the catacombs for a taste of wine seem odd or suspicious to the victim?
The Storage of Wine
For wines to maintain their best quality, they need to be stored at fairly cool and constant temperatures.
During the time period in which the story is set, modern electric refrigeration was not available. To protect wine collections, connoisseurs adopted the practice of storing wines under the ground where temperatures remain ideal year-round.
Basements, cellars, and even catacombs serve as excellent storage facilities for the precious vintages.
Herein, where wine bottles intermingle with the bones of the dead, the narrator carries out his plan for revenge.
Edgar Allan Poe
Author, not the narrator, of the story.
Developed characters whose sanity is questionable.
as a significant contributor to the development of the short story as a literary genre.
“The Cask of Amontillado” ENJOY THIS LITERARY JOURNEY INTO THE DARK SIDE OF REVENGE!
Sources Coil, Suzanne M. Mardi Gras (photos by Michael Osborne). New York: Macmillan, 1994. France: A Culinary Journey. San Francisco: Collins, 1992. Poe, Edgar A. “The Cask of Amontillado” Literature . Prentice Hall: Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1998. “Underground Paris: The Catacombs.” www.triggur.org.