“I continued, as was my wont, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive my smile now was at the thought of his immolation.” – Poe 553
Everyone has heard of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. In “The Cask of Amontillado” the narrator, Montresor, does just that when he gives his “friend” a chance to validate a pipe of Amontillado. This mentality is captured by the quote on page 553 of the text. This passage reveals just how dastardly the man is. He says that he smiles at Fortunato not as a sign of friendship, but at the thought of his murder. Poe cleverly includes “as was my wont” in the text, letting the reader know that this man was accustomed to being friendly to Fortunato. “Now” is also italicized, giving emphasis that thoughts of aggression towards Fortunato were very real and would happen soon. This passage is critical to understanding the text because it sets the mood for the piece. From now on the reader knows Montresor’s intentions are anything but friendly and that any actions he takes from this point forward were premeditated. The text is very ironic because the reader knows that Montresor is scheming and putting on a façade to Fortunato but he is completely unaware.
Montresor’s intentions can be best explained by the passage before which talks about how Montresor had been wronged by Fortunato many times, giving a motive for revenge. After the selected passage, Montresor reveals how he will lure Fortunato by exploiting the Italian’s hubris of wine connoisseurship. When given this context, the quoted piece is given a few finer details as to why or how he was going to murder Fortunato. In this way a consistent theme is established. We know that Montresor is controlling the situation and that Fortunato is almost clueless to the ruse.
The rest of the text can now be interpreted with this keystone, Montresor is trying to kill Fortunato with kindness. On page 553 and 556 Montresor keeps calling Fortunato his friend. With the knowledge that the selected text has given the reader, he or she knows that this is extremely ironic. How friendly is it to be plotting someone’s death? The selected text explains many more actions. On page 553, Montresor compliments Fortunato on his dress then criticizes himself for not inquiring for Fortunato’s assistance when deciding to purchase the Amontillado. In this instance, Montresor is trying to stroke Fortunato’s ego, entice him into validating the wine. Upon entering the catacombs on page 554, Fortunato is twice warned that the cold will make him ill. These well timed caring actions not only reassure Fortunato that Montresor is a friend but encourages him to go on as if to prove that he was strong to his male companion. On page 554, Montresor offers Fortunato alcohol, a sign of friendship but also part of his scheme in making sure that Fortunato continues the journey through the catacombs, blinded by intoxication.
Interestingly enough, one characteristic of friendship is knowledge about the person. In this regard, Montresor may actually be classified as a friend. He knew how much pride Fortunato took in his wine tasting abilities. On page 553, it shows that he also knew that Fortunato was the kind of man who’s “enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and opportunity”. Knowledge of this fact allowed to Montresor to present Fortunato an opportunity of a lifetime, the possibility of a cask of Amontillado. He also knew that Fortunato had a competitive spirit. He challenges this multiple time throughout the text by stating that he should just bring the wine to another man, Luchesi. Fortunato vehemently rejects the idea by calling Luchesi an “ignoramus” on page 556, and taking the thought of such a thing as an insult to his wine tasting prowess.
With a fake smile and knowledge of a close friend, Montressor murdered Fortunato. Throughout the text, Montressor offers the warmth of friendship and alcohol to him. However at the end of the day, neither would be able to warm Fortunato’s cold dead body in those catacombs. Turns out that kindness was just as suffocating as the stones used to seal him in.