In “The Cask of Amontillado”, why has the narrator waited fifty years to reveal what he has done, and under what circumstances is he reporting his deed?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narrator of "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allen Poe is Montresor, and he has waited fifty years to confess his crime. He is telling the story to one, he says, who

so well know[s] the nature of my soul. 

Of course this reference to his soul suggests that he is confessing to a priest, presumably at the end of his life when he knows he is dying. 

Long ago he vowed to exact revenge against Fortunato, and his family motto suggests that no one will be allowed to hurt him without consequences. It is translated as:

“No one harms me with impunity.”

Although he did kill Fortunato, it is clear that Montresor was not unscathed by the incident because he feels the need to officially confess his deed to a priest. That suggests that Fortunato won, as he caused Montresor to feel guilty, despite his claims to the contrary, for most of his lifetime. In a sense, Fortunato unknowingly defeated Montresor.

The title of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "The Birthmark" is apt, as the primary focus of the story is the hand-shaped birthmark on Georgiana's beautiful cheek. In fact, everything about Georgiana is beautiful except perhaps this one blemish. 

Hawthorne makes it clear to us that this birthmark is a symbol of human mortality. He tells us:

The crimson hand expressed the ineludible gripe in which mortality clutches the highest and purest of earthly mould, degrading them into kindred with the lowest, and even with the very brutes, like whom their visible frames return to dust. In this manner, selecting it as the symbol of his wife's liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death. 

The narrator claims that everything that lives is flawed in some way, and this serves as a reminder that every living thing will eventually die.

Georgiana is perfect in nearly every way, but she does have this one flaw. Obviously the theme is that even perfect human beings are flawed because they are mortal. The two things are intertwined.

Her husband, Aylmer, loves Georgiana very much, yet he is almost violently repulsed by that birthmark. This revulsion against her birthmark is also an indicator of his horror at the thought of mortality (death). In fact, he is a scientist who is “proficient in every branch of natural philosophy.” Because of his studies in which he manipulates and tries to control nature, he believes he can somehow make her immortal by removing the birthmark from this otherwise perfect woman. 

He is, however, mistaken. He believes that if he can root out this symbol of her mortality (her humanness), he will then possess the power to create immortality--or at least prolong life for an undefined period of time. 

Another error Aylmer makes is that he is convinced that the birthmark also represents all of Georgiana's sins, despite the fact that she has displayed nothing but good, even highly spiritual, characteristics throughout the story. 

This is one of Hawthorne's primary themes in this story. Remember that Georgiana's birthmark is in the shape of a human hand, which reinforces the connection between every human's mortality and humanity. Aylmer does get rid of the the blemish, making his wife even more beautiful and perfect. In doing so, however, he also kills her.

Imperfection is part of being human, as is our mortality. The birthmark in this story reminds us of this inescapable fact. 

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Montresor is not a real person but an illusion, the creation of Edgar Allan Poe. Poe has Montresor state that no one has found Fortunato''s remains in the past fifty years because Poe wanted the reader to feel assured that Montresor had committed his perfect crime with the "impunity" which was important to his perfect revenge.

I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresserIt is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.

I think we can assume that Montresor waited a half-century to mention his crime to anyone, even his close friend, because he wanted to be absolutely certain that he had been completely successful in murdering Fortunato and concealing the body. Montresor would have to be very old by the time he wrote his letter, and presumably he wanted to share his satisfaction with someone before he died. Some readers believe he wanted to confess a sin, but the overall story seems like someone bragging about a victory over an enemy, not someone who is feeling remorse. 

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

RE:  "The Cask of Amontillado"

Certainly, readers must wonder why Montresor has waited fifty years to reveal his revenge upon Fortunato, and they must also question the "thousand injuries" that he mentions he has suffered in the exposition of the story. Apparently, then, this narrator is prone to hyperbole, and readers, therefore, must presume that this narrator/character, who gives no specificity about the insults, is unreliable. 

Perhaps, also, in this tale replete with double-meanings,his confession is given only because Montresor approaches death; moreover, he may have saved it for his assumed death-bed for the dramatic effect that he seems to love since this penchant for boasting and crescendo is evinced in the beginning as well as in other parts of his narrative--

"The niter! I said; "see, it increases. It hangs like moss upon the vaults. We are below the river's bed. The drops of moisutre trickle among the bones...."--

Therefore, this narrator of the effusive nature of Latins, may well be embellishing his confession so that his act will become legendary. Certainly, his coat of arms as well as his name (and names are always significant in literary works), a combination of two French words [Mont=mountain and tresor= treasure], suggest pretensions of grandeur.

thewanderlust878 | Student

Looking at the story from simply a reader standpoint (meaning without going into further detail/ researching more in depth about the topic) I believe that the narrator in "The Cask of Amontillado" has waited all these years to tell his story for many reasons. One could be that he is now dying, and has had the guilt on his shoulders all these years, and he wishes to finally be free of it. Another reason could be because he finally thinks that after all these years, he will not be able to be punished (at least not harshly) for his crime. 

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The Cask of Amontillado

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