What Details of the Setting Contribute to the Horror of the Story "The Cask of Amontillado?"

Edgar Allan Poe shaped many genres of American literature and was a master of the creepy setting. Poe is especially well known for reshaping horror fiction from supernatural melodramas to psycho-thrillers exploring the minds of murderers. Horror stories often contain scenes in cemeteries. Poe took readers a giant step farther into creepiness in his 1846 short story "The Cask of Amontillado" by situating it deep underground, in dark, damp catacombs littered with skeletal remains.

Macabre Underground Setting

A fictional setting encompasses not only the time, place and geographical location in which a story occurs, but also its cultural context. A significant part of the horror in "The Cask of Amontillado" is that it occurs beneath streets where throngs of people are partying to celebrate carnival -- or Mardi Gras -- before the social restrictions of the Roman Catholic season of Lent. Yet there is no one other than the murderer, Montresor, to hear the screams and weeping of his drunken victim, Fortunato, as he chains Fortunato inside a tiny nook in the Montresor family's labyrinthine burial vaults and bricks it closed. It's horrifying to think that Montresor spends the next 50 years living above his secret. Poe locates his story in an unidentified European city, possibly in Italy, outside the ancient walls of Rome, or in Paris, as both places are known for their catacombs.