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In "The Cask of Amonitllado," what is Montresor doing in Italy? Montresor is a French...

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 19, 2013 at 11:37 PM via web

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In "The Cask of Amonitllado," what is Montresor doing in Italy?

Montresor is a French name. He speaks disparagingly of Italians in the third paragraph. He wears a roquelaire, a French cloak named after a French nobleman. The story is full of French words, such as flambeaux. He serves Fortunato two French wines (Medoc and De Grave) when they are underground. Yet the catacombs are full of bones of what appear to be Montresor's ancestors. How can he still consider himself French after apparent centuries of family residence in Italy?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 20, 2013 at 8:57 PM (Answer #1)

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This is a great question, but one unlikely to have a concrete answer. All that is known about Montresor is what is told -- by himself -- in the story; he is focused on revenge against Fortunato and does not go into detail about his own family. However, a few things can be safely assumed:

  • Montresor is probably Italian, but has more respect for France
  • He is rich, or from a wealthy family
  • His family is well-known in Italy
  • He is not a member of the Masons
  • He has been involved with some venture or ventures that Fortunato has affected negatively in some way

Going by this information, Montresor is, perhaps, a businessman, traveling around Europe to seal deals between families and businesses. If so, Montresor might have been enamored with France during his time there, and even changed his name to reflect that love. This would also explain his disdain for Italy; he believes that he has found a more civilized culture and resents returning to his home for any reason. If Fortunato is a rival businessman, the "thousand injuries" could be business coups.

Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit. For the most part their enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and opportunity, to practise imposture upon the British and Austrian millionaires. In painting and gemmary, Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack, but in the matter of old wines he was sincere. In this respect I did not differ from him materially; --I was skillful in the Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.
(Poe, "The Cask of Amontillado," xroads.virginia.edu)

Now the question becomes: why can't Montresor simply be a Frenchman? Perhaps his family lives in Italy but Montresor himself was born and raised elsewhere; Montresor is not necessarily his family name, after all. An offshoot living in France would logically name their children with French names; Montresor could have traveled to Italy for the first time (explaining his disdain for the country and people) for family or business. Either way, he clearly sees himself as not part of Italian culture; Montresor uses his family catacombs to get away with murder but doesn't enlist any family or organized help (not being part of the Masons means that Montresor would not be privy to inside gossip or social status).

There is even a literary theory that Montresor was working for some other group or nation; perhaps he represented French interests in Italy and removing Fortunato was not simply an act of revenge, but an undercover mission of war. Since Montresor is narrating, he might leave out key details such as having a false name or identity: to Fortunato, he might not have been known as Montresor, but as a member of a local wealthy family.

In the end, though, this question can be answered only through supposition and interpretation; a solid answer would depend on the long-dead Poe himself.

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