The Cask of Amontillado – Poe’s Work
“The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge”—such are Poe’s opening words for The Cask of Amontillado (1846), a short story written from the narrator’s (Montresor) viewpoint. As in other works of Poe, a characteristic of the present story resides in the absence of evidence accompanying Montresor’s assertion of Fortunato’s “thousand injuries” and “insult.” With revenge and secret murder as means of evading utilizing legal channels of retribution, the story entails Montresor’s desire to avenge “the thousand injuries of Fortunato” which Montresor asserts he has borne as best he could. Montresor demonstrates from the beginning several key factors about his situation with Fortunato: he has borne numerous insults from Fortunato (or at least what he assumed to be insults on the part of Fortunato), he arrived to a particular situation which Montresor considered the final matter he would tolerate, hence his desire for revenge; and he has sought to secretly plot retribution for the many offenses directed against him. These fundamental facts lend the reader to observe some fundamental characteristics of Montresor which serve as revealing of his personality: unreliability as narrator; the absence of sympathy; and confessing and bragging.
Whether or not he himself plastered Fortunato into a vault or if he is lying and did not actually kill Fortunato, Montresor is an unreliable narrator who cannot be trusted, and both these defects speak not only of his character specifically but also of human nature overall. Montresor is subject to emotional instability and is unable to substantiate any claims against Fortunato. His sole desire is avenging the “thousand injuries of Fortunato [which] I had borne as best I could…” Nonetheless, he never specifies what these “thousand injuries” are nor does he substantiate the veracity of such claims. Montresor relates the entire account years after the story is supposed to have occurred, believing himself to be rather clever and his enemy rather foolish.
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The absence of sympathy in Montresor’s character can be found throughout the story. One who is sympathetic is not necessarily one for whom another feels sympathy, but rather one who is a character to whom one can relate at some level, to some extent. It cannot be denied that Montresor is completely alien to the reader in various ways. Yet negating that one can relate to Montresor in any fashion defeats part of the main purpose of the story. Like Montresor, all have at some point a desire for revenge, for retribution; all feel that one individual exists who has caused “a thousand injuries” even though the one responsible for such may not have been aware nor have intended to injure anyone. Another reason why one can relate to Montresor is because he is still living, having gotten away with what he did thus evading any trouble over it. To this the reader can relate in that all have some “dark secret” that one attempts to hide, except from a handful of individuals one feels can be trusted.
The final characteristic of Montresor is how he brags about and confesses a diversity of matters. Literary critics debate whether he is confessing his actions or bragging about them, but he is actually doing both: Montresor confesses his actions in order to brag about them. This is a combination of pride, vanity and cynicism, given how he delights in all he has done. Even if one were to argue he does not “brag” about anything, nonetheless, he talks openly about what he has done as if nothing, given he feels justified in what he has done.
Montresor in all this demonstrates a character that is quick-tempered and vengeful, unreliable in what he relates, unsympathetic, and proud for confessing his acts only to brag of them.