The Cask of Amontillado: Montresor
In “The Cask of Amontillado” the narrator “Montresor” tells his version of a story about revenge on a man named Fortunato who he believed has wronged him. Edgar Allan Poe is an author who is very well known for his short stories, and his use of unreliable narrators. Poe uses many literary techniques throughout the “The Cask of Amontillado “which makes the reader question the events that Montresor explained throughout the story. In “The Cask of Amontillado” Edgar Allan Poe’s narrator Montresor is unreliable because not only does he use verbal irony, but we only hear how the events unfolded from his point of view.
The first way Montresor shows us that he is unreliable is that he never tells us how Fortunato has wronged him. In the first sentence of the story Montresor says, “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge” (Poe 1). Montresor truly believes that Fortunato has wronged him but never decides to tell the reader how. “The central irony lies in Montresor’s coat of arms–which depicts a large human foot crushing a serpent whose fangs are embedded in the heel–and his family motto: No one harms me with impunity.” (The Cask of Amontillado 1). In this quote the author hints that Fortunato has injured or hurt the family’s honor but continues to never give us any details on what happened. By punish with impunity he means that he must go forth with revenge, but he can’t get caught to complete the deed. Montresor’s family motto is “Nemo me impune lacessit” which loosely translates to “No one provokes me with impunity.” This means that no one attacks him without worry of getting punished. “We never know what has made him hate Fortunato nor are we aware that he has ever laid out any plan to effect his revenge.
How it works
There is nothing intellectual here; everything is mad and improvisatory—and Montresor succeeds just so far as he is able to adapt himself to a mad, improvisatory world” (Hutchinson’s 50) (Baraban 50). This quote is explaining that even though Montresor seemed like he had a plan he never told the reader whether or not he did. As far as the reader knows Montresor enacted on his rage spontaneously without explaining what it was that sparked his need for revenge. Without the knowledge of how Fortunato wronged him, Montresor is not explaining his side of the story reliably. “At the end of the story, although Montresor does indeed murder Fortunato, he never really makes clear to him why he is doing it” (The Cask of Amontillado 1). Montresor doesn’t only uninform the reader of how he has been wronged but he also doesn’t tell Fortunato why he murders him. This is another reason Montresor is unreliable as he does not even share this information with the man who he believes has wronged and insulted him.
Another aspect that shows Montresor’s unreliability is that he used a disturbing tone which gives the reader the image that he is insane. In the story it states, “For the love of God, Montresor!” “Yes,” I said, “For the love of God!” (Poe 85). Montresor wanted Fortunato to know that he knew what he was doing. He wanted Fortunato to know that his fate is sealed and despite what he may have believed in, he was going to act on his revenge. “The proud Fortunato does not even think about it, nevertheless. He intends to taste the Amontillado at all possible costs” (Liviu 204). Montresor knew that Fortunato would go into the vaults with him because of his pride and the type of person that he is. He knew that if he told him about the wine he would be interested and wouldn’t be able to resist. “Therefore, deriding his victim’s insensitivity, Montresor even plays a little game. Specifying that the place is too damp (the catacombs are under a river), the narrator asks Fortunato to go back home, lest he should get ill (the victim coughs persistently during their descent into the vaults)” (Liviu 204).
Montresor is repeatedly throughout the story asking if Fortunato wants to go back because he knows that due to type of person Fortunato is, he will not go back. Saying all of these things to Fortunato allow Montresor to feel in control which is what he wants. These events show the type of person that Montresor is which show his unreliable nature. “In an annotation to “”The Cask of Amontillado,”” Stephen Peithman writes, “”If there is any doubt that Montresor is mad, consider how he echoes Fortunato scream for scream, shrieking even louder than his victim”” (Baraban 4). This quote goes on to explain Montresor’s characteristics of an insane man. When he echoes his victims screams, he continues to make himself look more unreliable by his insanity.
Edgar Allan Poe uses many literal devices throughout the story but the one that shows up the most is verbal irony. This causes Montresor to seem even more untrustworthy as a narrator. In the story Poe says, “I said to him¬––“My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking to-day. But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts” (Poe 5). Montresor knew that Fortunato would believe his lie about having the Amontillado because Fortunato is very well with his wines and takes great pride in it, he needed to see if what Montresor was saying was true. Montresor also says something about how well he is looking which is one of Montresor’s way of getting Fortunato to follow him into the vault. In the vault Montresor decides to lie about being a Mason. “You are not of the masons” “Yes, yes,” I said; “yes, yes.” (Poe 60) This quote shows how Montresor is using any possible ruse he has to get Fortunato to keep going into the vault. Montresor says that he is a mason, but he means in it the terms of someone who builds in stone or brick. Montresor also acts like he cares about Fortunato’s health throughout the story. Montresor knew that if he tried to make him go back Fortunato’s pride would stop him. “Come.” I said, with decision, “we will go back; your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as I once was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter. We will go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible. Besides, there is Luchresi––– “(Poe 35) Montresor is constantly stopping Fortunato and asking him to turn back because he is acting like he cares about his health. Fortunato ends up dead which shows the irony in this situation. It’s all just another part of his plan to commit the perfect revenge.
In conclusion Edgar Allan Poe has Montresor show himself to be more of an unreliable narrator as the story goes on. In Montresor’s story of revenge, he explains all of the events from his point of view. He also shows throughout the story his insane qualities which also shows his unreliability. Montresor’s use of verbal irony shows the reader that he is not afraid to lie, and this makes him untrustworthy. Throughout the “Cask of Amontillado” Montresor showed many qualities of an unreliable narrator by Edgar Allan Poe using many different literary techniques.