Let Me Tell You Why "The Cask of Amontillado" is the Scariest of Edgar Allan Poe's Stories
Happy Halloween! The best day of the year is almost here!
And there is no better way to celebrate than to discuss Our Lord and Savior Edgar Allan Poe!
I’ve been excited for this post all month. Why, you may ask? Because I’m here to tell you that “The Cask of Amontillado” is the scariest of Poe’s work. It’s not “The Pit and the Pendulum,” it’s not “The Masque of the Red Death,” it’s not “The Raven.” Nay, nay I say. It is truly "The Cask of Amontillado."
Let me give you a little summary of this story before I force you to believe this is the scariest of Poe’s canon. “The Cask of Amontillado” is the story of Montresor, a rich man who has been insulted by another man by the name of Fortunato. This insult has lead Montresor to thoroughly hate Fortunato and want revenge for the insult. During the carnival season, Montresor takes his victim to his wine cellar where there is a surprise waiting for Fortunato. Spoiler alert, the surprise is death! Under the pretense of enjoying some high quality wine, aka our titular cask of Amontillado, Montresor chains Fortunato to the wall and begins to brick Fortunato in.
Based on this synopsis, one could say that it’s similar to “The Pit and the Pendulum” where the victim is set to endure a slow, painful death at the hands of starvation and oxygen deprivation. But the thing with “The Pit and the Pendulum” is that victim is never presented with a choice to evade death. The victim of “The Pit and the Pendulum” is going to die no matter what he chooses. Fortunato on the other hand has multiple chances to evade death.
There are multiple times throughout “The Cask of Amontillado” where Montresor asks Fortunato if he wishes to continue. Montresor continuously says that he can have someone else verify if he indeed bought Amontillado if Fortunato feels too ill, is too cold in the wine cellar, or just doesn’t want to do so. Three separate excuses for Fortunato to use. Three separate ways to get out of the cellar; each brought up multiple times but never used to escape.
Had Fortunato not been blinded by his own hubris, he could have survived the story. Montresor not only gives Fortunato multiple chances to escape, but he literally lays everything out to his victim. From under his robes, Montresor shows Fortunato the trowel he’s going to use to brick the wall up. Fortunato may not know the exact reason Montresor has a trowel on his body, but Montresor does not hide it. Even in the room that Montresor plans to seal Fortunato up in, the bags of mortar are visible.
Seriously, Montresor lays all his cards on the table. He may not tell Fortunato he’s going to murder him, but like I’ve said, he gives his victim multiple times to escape, shows him what’ll be used to seal him into the cellar with, and just acts likes a normal human being.
Perhaps the scariest part of this story is Montresor’s demeanor. There’s no indication that there is any animosity between the pair; they act like old friends and not people with any issues towards one another. Montresor is a charismatic killer. He makes Fortunato feel comfortable and safe in his company. There is no reason for Fortunato to fear his future killer. Montresor reminds me of Ted Bundy. People didn’t believe Bundy could be a killer because he didn’t look the part and because he was a charismatic man. Montresor is not a person who people would believe to be a murderer. To me, that’s the scariest part of this story.
Poe grounded this story in realism. He didn’t rely on supernatural elements, there isn’t a creepy manor home in the middle of nowhere, the narrator isn’t necessarily unreliable; this story is different. This is the story of a man scorned. This is a story of revenge. The story of a cold-blooded killer. And those are the scariest stories of all.