How does the evidence prove Montresor is (in)sane in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Measured against some of the killers in contemporary America, Montesor follows the pattern of those who have posted manifestos before they slaughter their victims. Here is his:

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 as such to him who has done wrong.

Granted, he kills only one man, but his motives appear to be as delusional as some other deranged killers because throughout the narrative of "The Cask of Amontillado" there is no interchange between victim and murderer that would substantiate the hyperbolic claims of Montresor that he has endured "a thousand injuries."

Clearly, too, Montresor is obsessed with his method of murder and its process more than the murder of his victim itself. He delights in the arabesques of suggestion and false concern, understatement, pun (the trowel and jokingly calling himself a "mason"), innuendo, and repetition as he herds the drunken and deluded victim, Fortunato, farther and farther into the depths of the niter-ridden and bone-strewn caverns. Some critics even feel that Montresor's sadistic intents take a prurient turn, as in the last part of the narrative Montresor "seduces" Fortunato as he "fettered him" to the granite and asks him to pass his hand over the wall. In this last passage, one critic suggests that there may be double meanings to Montresor's use of such words as "ejaculated," "unsheathing my rapier," "erected the hairs upon my head" that occur in the final paragraphs.

Certainly, the behavior of Montresor is bizarre and the real horror of this tale lies in the mind of the killer himself who distorts and exaggerates and perverts all the action and verbal interchange. Furthermore, he seems disappointed when he has finished his acts of unsubstantiated reprisal; for, after he calls to Fortunato behind the wall and his victim does not respond, Montresor states, "My heart grew sick," then makes an excuse quickly.

The use of reverse psychology is rampant through the story and demonstrates how perverted and backwards all the relationships in the story have become [Enotes]

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sciftw's profile pic

sciftw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Insane is easy.  He gets a guy drunk and buries him alive in his basement.  Even years later, Montresor exhibits no signs of guilt or remorse. 

"For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat!"

However, Montresor is much more sane than the narrator of Poe's "Tell Tale Heart."  That guy is nuts.  Montresor, however, appears much more "with it."  He clearly knows Fortunato well.  He knows that Amontillado is irresistible to Fortunato.  Monstresor also knows to name drop Luchesi in order to further goad Fortunato deeper into the catacombs.  

“Proceed,” I said; “herein is the Amontillado. As for Luchesi——”

“He is an ignoramus,” interrupted my friend, as he stepped unsteadily forward, while I followed immediately at his heels."

Everything about Montresor's actions feels calm and deliberate.  The entire evening is clearly a well thought out plan to eliminate someone who had given Montresor a "thousand injuries."  While I think the punishment is overly severe, I do not believe that Montresor is insane.  He hasn't lost his wits.  If anything, his clarity of forethought is what is most disturbing.  

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