Monday, April 2, 2012

Short Story Monday: The Cask of Amontillado

A classic short story today: "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe. My sister, Erin, inspired me to revisit this short story - I just finished proofreading an essay she wrote on it.

Edgar Allan Poe is, of course, a master of symbolism, and this story is no exception. Every detail has layers of meaning. The overarching symbol in the story is the amontillado itself, which Montresor invents to lure his victim, Fortunato, into the catacombs. Poe did not choose amontillado by accident; according to Wikipedia:
"An amontillado sherry begins as a fino, fortified to approximately 13.5 percent alcohol with a cap of flor yeast limiting its exposure to the air. A cask of fino is considered to be amontillado if the layer of flor fails to develop adequately, is intentionally killed by additional fortification or is allowed to die off through non-replenishment."
Not only is amontillado rare enough to pique Fortunato's interest, it is also created by a method that sounds very similar to Montresor's plan for Fortunato's death.

Fortunato enters the catacombs as "fino" - "the driest and palest of the traditional varieties of sherry. They are drunk comparatively young, and unlike the sweeter varieties should be drunk soon after the bottle is opened as exposure to air can cause them to lose their flavour within hours" (Wikipedia). Also possibly related to the Spanish word "fin" meaning "end"? The bricks Montresor lays become the flor yeast. But did the layer of flor fail to develop adequately? Montresor finishes the wall, so my guess is no. Does Fortunato remain fino? Or is he the flor - "intentionally killed by additional fortification" and "allowed to die off through non-replenishment"?

Interesting ideas here. Maybe someone out there knows more about sherry than I do and can clarify this process? Either way, it's clear that Poe chose amontillado with a purpose that resonates throughout the story. Very well done.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John at The Book Mine Set.