The narrator, whose name is Montresor, starts his story by stating that he suffered a thousand offenses from his acquaintance, Fortunato, but the last one is an irreparable insult. Montresor decides to take his revenge. He thinks about it and comes to the conclusion that his revenge should be unnoticed by anyone else. Resentment, it his opinion, is not avenged if the avenger overtakes the payoff. It is also not avenged even if the abuser does not know whose hand has brought down the punishment on him.
Fortunato has one weakness, he considers himself an expert on wines and really understands them well. Montresor decides to use this his trait to lure his offender into a trap. When the annual carnival starts and its madness is raging the city, Montresor puts on a mask of black silk and meets Fortunato, who, already drunk, wears a colourful outfit of a jester. Montresor says that he has a whole cask of something that can be Amontilliado, the rare and light Spanish brandy. Montresor asks Fortunato to taste it but promptly adds that if Fortunato has no time, he will rather offer this cask to his rival, Luchesi.
Fortunato exclaims that his rival actually isn’t able to tell Amontilliado for any other brandy and if Montresor needs an expert opinion than only Fortunato is suitable for the task. They go together to the Montresor’s palazzo and it appears they are alone there. Every single servant was celebrating on the streets of the city - their master deliberately sent them away to avoid witnesses. The men start descending into the dark and moist catacombs the walls of which are covered with nitre. The nitre causes Fortunato to cough wildly and Montresor several times asks if he wants to turn back and refuse to taste Amontilliado. But Fortunato is adamant, he says that the brandy will be the best medicine for his cough.
They go further and further through the corridors where the bones of Montresor’s ancestors rest. Fortunato asks his companion about his family and coat of arms and Montresor responds that it is the human foot of gold colour on the azure field. The foot steps on a serpent that bites its heel. The motto, in Latin, is “nemo me impune lacessit,” that is, “no one insults me with impunity.”
They approach the end of their way. Then Fortunato makes a special hand movement, that is a secret sign of Mason organization. Montresor claims he is a mason too, but he doesn’t recognize this sign. Fortunato demands the explanation and Montresor shows him his trowel meaning he is an actual stonemason. Fortunato takes it as a joke and they keep going.
Finally they come into a distant small crypt where three of four walls were decorated with bones. The fourth one used to be decorated with them too, but now all the bones were thrown to the ground, showing a recess. Montresor says that the cask of Amontilliado is stored there. Fortunato, already sick because of the nitre evaporation and alcohol, slowly goes into the recess and Montresor suddenly chains him to the stone with the chains lying in the recess.
He cruelly offers Fortunato to leave again, mocking him and slowly walling up him inside with his trowel. Fortunato screams as Montresor lays the first stones. The alcohol wears off very soon and Fortunato finally realises the grave danger he is in. He moans and begs, promising everything and pleading for life, but Montresor keeps working as steadily as he started, enjoying the torment of the offender.
For some time Fortunato falls unconscious, letting Montresor finish his work in silence. But just when the last stone is about to lay on its place, Fortunato starts laughing hysterically, telling that Montresor must be playing a joke on him, but when Montresor also laughs at him, he understands that it isn’t true. Fortunato asks him for the last time to stop for the love of God. Then Fortunato, now immured in the wall, stops answering. Montresor, still not satisfied with his sufferings, calls him twice. When he places the last stone, he hears the jingling of the Fortunato’s jester bells.
After finishing the work Montresor feels that his heart feels sick, but not because of what he just did, but because of dampness and nitre. He finally places the bones back on the fourth wall, feeling deep satisfaction and goes away.
Montresor writes that half a century has passed since then to telling this story and no mortal’s hand touched that masonry during that time. He concludes his story with a Latin phrase meaning “May he rest in peace”.
The sheer horror of the story comes not only from the vivid description of the catacombs and psychological torments of the victim, but also from perfectly subjective narrator’s point of view. If we ever think more about the fact that no one, except Montresor, knows what was that grave offend Fortunato made, the story becomes much more horrifying.
Just think for a moment: what insult is sufficient for such a cruel and sophisticated punishment and if it ever exists - what kind of a man can appoint himself a judge, jury and executor at the same time?
Moreover, Fortunato seems perfectly fine to see his friend and to go with him to his place. He doesn’t even try to offend Montresor once more, he feels relaxed. That isn’t the way the enemies behave. Which brings us another question: were the “thousand” offences together with the last and worst one ever real? Or did they all happen only in sick Montresor’s mind?
Montresor acts as a real sociopath, coldly thinking over all the consequences, planning the murder with ideal timing and strategy. Moreover, he clearly takes pleasure in Fortunato’s helpless state, feeling himself right. Montresor behaves as the cries of pain and terror are the main reason of what he did. He crosses the line of justice and just indulges himself, mocking the helpless victim, acting deliberately slowly, letting poor Fortunato fully understand what awaits him.
One of the most unsetting lines is when Fortunato stops answering to his executioner. Montresor calls him twice, seeming genuinely worried for a moment. In a particular way it feels like a hope spot, making the reader to almost believe that it all was a wicked joke and Montresor is going to break the wall, deciding that his offender is punished enough for his deeds. But then we, along with Fortunato, realize that the one thing Montresor really worries about is that his fun is over. His heart aches not because of what he did, but just because of unhealthy air in the dungeon.
The part with discussing Masons also adds more to the overall horror. Montresor isn’t guided by some rituals, he isn’t even a member of the devil-worshipping cult. He is a man, seeming perfectly normal he shows Fortunato a trowel and the future victim laughs at the clever joke. There are no wicked beliefs making Montresor behave that way. This is just his personality.
The description of catacombs is also so much of a contrast with lively and loud carnival that happens above them. It reflects the difference between Montresor himself, wearing a black silk ominous mask and joyful Fortunato in his jester suit, with bright colours and bells. The way they descent deeper, through the bones and nitre evaporations reminds the reader the journey to the grim afterlife or even Hell itself from the world of joy and life.
The last chamber brings even more questions to light: if Montresor’s ancestors were buried here, then why would anyone use their remains as decoration? Maybe they were other people, murdered there and then left as a silent reminder of family motto? Or even is this the usual way for Montresor’s family to deal with offenders?