In "The Cask of Amontillado," by Edgar Allan Poe, what is the meaning of the phrase "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser"?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Montresor has a number of conditions on the revenge he seeks on Fortunato. First, he says, "I must not only punish but punish with impunity." In other words, it is not only vital that he exact revenge on his enemy but also that he must punish this enemy without incurring punishment for himself.  Next, he says that "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser," which addresses an idea that is similar in some respects: Montresor feels that he won't actually have achieved his revenge on Fortunato if he, the avenger, must deal with some personal consequence for the revenge. This could refer to some form of punishment, but it could also refer to guilt. If Montresor spends the rest of his life feeling guilty about the revenge he takes on Fortunato, then how successful will his revenge really be? Some readers feel that Montresor does feel guilty about what he did to Fortunato and that this is why he is confessing it some fifty years after it has taken place. If this is the case, then his revenge has not been complete.

Montresor also says that a wrong "is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong." Thus, his final condition for revenge is that Fortunato must understand that Montresor is responsible for whatever pain or injury Fortunato is made to feel.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These are the words of narrator in the exposition of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" as Montresor offers the reader his explanation of veritable revenge.  According to Montresor, it is not revenge, or retribution when this retribution comes upon the "redresser" suddenly; in other words, when the avenger is himself punished by being caught or harmed, etc.  Nor is it retribution when the avenger does not reveal his hatred to the one who has done the wrong:

I must not only punish, but punish with impunity.  a wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser.  It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as much to him who has done the wrong.

The elaborate plan of the man who has endured "the thousand injuries of Fortunato" fulfills the requirements that Montesor has set down.  For, Montesor punishes "with impunity"  since the revenge has been exacted fifty years ago, and no one has discovered his victim: 

For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them [Fortunato's bells].  In pace requiescat

Montesor has also made himself known to his victim.  Fortunato cries out from behind the wall, "For the love of God, Montresor," and Montresor responds, "Yes,...for the love of God."

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The Cask of Amontillado

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