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by Edgar Allan Poe
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There is quite a difference between reading and reading critically. When you read a text critically, you read and reread with a questioning mind, continually asking yourself, "Why this?" and "Why that?" Reading critically requires you to pay attention not only to what a writer is saying but also to how he or she is conveying meaning. By reading a text critically, you can identify and understand the complexities and interrelated elements in a text that casual readers may never notice. Great works of literature reveal their greatness to readers who approach them critically.

The following pages present Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Cask of Amontillado" on the left side of the screen. On the right side are comments intended to help you understand the story and questions that a critical reader might ask when reading this text. Many other questions could be asked of the text, and you might think of some of your own as you are reading the story.


The Story

Questions and Comments

The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge1.1. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat 1.2. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitively settled--but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved, precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish, but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong 1.3.

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. 1.4

He had a weak point--this Fortunato--although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine. Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit. For the most part their enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and opportunity--to practise imposture upon the British and Austrian millionaires. In painting and gemmary Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack--but in the matter of old wines he was sincere. In this respect I did not differ from him materially: I was skilful in the Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could. 1.5

It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season, that I encountered my friend 1.6. He accosted me with excessive warmth, for he had been drinking much 1.7. The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells 1.8. I was so pleased to see him, that I thought I should never have done wringing his hand 1.9.

I said to him--"My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met 1.10. How remarkably well you are looking to-day! But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts" 1.11.

"How?" said he. "Amontillado? A pipe? Impossible! And in the middle of the carnival!"

"I have my doubts," I replied; "and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter. You were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain." 1.12


"I have my doubts." 1.13


"And I must satisfy them."


"As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchesi 1.14. If any one has a critical turn, it is he. He will tell me--"

"Luchesi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry."

"And yet some fools will have it that his taste is a match for your own. 1.15

"Come, let us go."


"To your vaults." 1.16

1.1 What does the name "Fortunato" suggest? What do you think of a character who will not tolerate insult without seeking revenge?

1.2 Is the narrator addressing a specific character that remains silent? Who might "so well know the nature of [the narrator's] soul"?

1.3 The narrator offers some advice on seeking revenge. What is his advice?

How does the narrator behave around his "friend" Fortunato?

What does this paragraph tell you about the narrator, about his social class, his attitude toward himself and others, his understanding of others?

Why do you think Poe chose "dusk" and the carnival season as part of the setting for this story?

1.7 For what other reason might Fortunato greet the narrator with "excessive warmth"?

1.8 Fortunato is wearing a costume similar to that of a jester.

1.9 Apparently, the narrator also greets Fortunato with "excessive warmth," but why?

1.10 Do you think this will be a "lucky" meeting for Fortunato?

1.11 Amontillado is a fine sherry. Remember what the narrator identifies as Fortunato's "weak point"?

Psychologically, what effect might the narrator's words have on Fortunato in this paragraph?

1.13 Why would the narrator repeat that he "has his doubts" about the Amontillado he purchased? Earlier, the narrator states that he, like Fortunato, is a wine expert. 

Luchesi is another wine expert.

The narrator continues his psychological manipulation of Fortunato. How is the narrator manipulating Fortunato here?

Notice it is Fortunato, and not the narrator, who insists on going to the narrator's vaults.


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Discussion Questions


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Illinois Valley Community College

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