How does Montressor, in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," differ from the narrator of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"?
The narrators (who are also the main characters) of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” are both memorable, yet each is memorable in his own distinctive way. Among the differences between these two men are the following:
- The narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” immediately announces that he was and still is “very, very dreadfully nervous,” whereas the narrator of “The Cask of Amontillado” hardly seems nervous at all. In fact, he seems extremely self-confident and even arrogant.
- The crime committed by the narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” is quickly discovered, as is the body of the person he murdered. In contrast, neither the crime nor the location of the victim of the murder committed Montresor in “The Cask of Amontillado” seems to have been discovered by the end of his tale, except insofar as Montresor himself reveals both the crime and the location to the person he addresses in the story.
- The narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” seems, himself, somewhat mystified by his crime. He cannot rationally explain his motive for murder, and in fact he seems to realize that the murder has no rational motive at all:
It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain, but, once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire.
- In contrast, Montresor thinks that the murder he commits makes perfect logical sense. It seems well deserved and seems, to him, simply a kind of justice for the “injuries” – including an “insult” – that Fortunato has committed:
The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.
Perhaps because of this contrast, Montresor seems far less troubled in his conscience (if he is troubled at all) than is true of the narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” The narrator of the latter tale explicitly informs us that he “pitied” his victim; Montresor makes no such overt confession of pity.
- The narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” kills his victim, when he finally does kill him, quickly and with hardly any time for much sound. The old man hardly has time to know what is happening to him, or by whom his murder has been committed. In contrast, Montresor lets his victim die a slow, painful, highly self-conscious death, and Fortunato is obviously aware that Montresor is responsible for his lingering, torturous demise.
- The narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” engages in no extended dialogue with his victim, whereas Montresor, of course, delights in speaking with Fortunato and luring him closer and closer toward his final horrible fate.
- The narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” has no opportunity to hear his victim plead for mercy, whereas Montresor hears such a plea and replies sarcastically to it.
All in all, Montresor seems by far the more cold, the more calculating, and the more heartless of the two killers.