illustration of Fortunato standing in motley behind a mostly completed brick wall with a skull superimposed on the wall where his face should be

The Cask of Amontillado

by Edgar Allan Poe
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Does Montresor feel guilt when he kills Fortunato? And where is the evidence in the story?

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Although Montresor, on the surface, insists that Fortunato deserved his grisly fate, there are several suggestions in the story that he feels some guilt over what he has done.

First, though we cannot be sure of it, Montresor seems to be telling this story as a deathbed confession, for we...

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Although Montresor, on the surface, insists that Fortunato deserved his grisly fate, there are several suggestions in the story that he feels some guilt over what he has done.

First, though we cannot be sure of it, Montresor seems to be telling this story as a deathbed confession, for we know the events he relates occurred fifty years before. It seems he wants to unburden himself before he goes to his final rest. However, if this is a deathbed confession to a priest, it may also be that Montresor, to complete his revenge, needs another person to know what he has done.

A stronger indication that he feels some guilt at the moment of his triumph over Fortunato comes in the following quote:

My heart grew sick

He says this as he is almost done walling Fortunato in. He thrusts his torch through the last remaining opening in his wall and hears in response only the faint jingle of bells. However, after a pause, indicated by a dash, he adds, as if to cover over his feeling of guilt:

My heart grew sick—on account of the dampness of the catacombs.

A reader might rightly ask: why should the dampness of the catacombs suddenly make him sick? Is it not more likely his heartsickness is from guilt at what he has done? Why does he hurry, as he says, to finish the job, rather than slowly exult in his triumph? Is it because he feels guilty?

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In Poe's classic short story "The Cask of Amontillado," Montresor explains how he deceives his enemy, Fortunato, and ends up burying him alive in the depths of his family's extensive catacombs. Montresor does not go into specific detail about how Fortunato has offended him but explains his desire to enact the perfect revenge. Montresor is portrayed as a callous man, who carefully plans and executes the perfect murder. Montresor is able to maintain his composure in front of Fortunato and leads him into his family's catacombs under the assumption that a rare cask of Amontillado wine is waiting for him. After making their way through the extensive vaults, Montresor ends up shackling Fortunato to an alcove and begins to construct a wall around him. Before Montresor puts the last brick in place, he thrusts his torch through the remaining hole in the wall, only to hear the sound of Fortunato's bells jingling. Montresor then says,

My heart grew sick—on account of the dampness of the catacombs. I hastened to make an end of my labor. (Poe, 10)

Montresor's comment and brief hesitation suggest that he feels a hint of guilt for burying Fortunato alive in his family's catacombs. He then attempts to hide his guilt by blaming his sick heart on the dampness of the vaults.

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There are two slight indications that Montresor felt some guilt for what he had done to Fortunato. Both of these indications, or clues, are to be found at the every end of the tale. He writes: "My heart grew sick--on account of the dampness of the catacombs." The break in that sentence suggests that he does not want to admit, even to himself, that he felt heartsick because of pity for his victim and that he quickly stops himself short and attributes his feelings to the dampness of the catacombs. He should have been thoroughly accustomed to that dampness by this point. The other clue is the Latin sentence at the very end: "In pace requiescat!" which means "Rest in peace." He may mean this with complete sincerity. He may sincerely regret what he did while at the same time feel satisfaction with the success of his scheme of revenge.

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