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In Edgar Allan Poe’s 1846 short story “The Cask of Amontillado,” the narrator, Montresor, seeks revenge against Fortunato because of the latter’s repeated instances of verbal abuse at the former’s expense:
“The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge."
Montresor’s plan for vengeance involves luring Fortunato to the former’s home, although the form Montresor’s revenge will take remains a mystery until the end. In order to convince his intended victim to cooperate and walk of his own free will toward whatever fate lay in store, Montresor appeals to Fortunato’s vanity and knowledge of and affection for fine wines. As Poe has his protagonist explain,
“He had a weak point—this Fortunato—although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine.”
Convincing Fortunato that he is in possession of a wine that could be Amontillado but for which he, Montresor, is not certain of its authenticity, he requests an expert opinion, and leads Fortunato to his doom.
Poe had a deep abiding fascination with the notion of burying his literary victims alive or dead, preferably behind a wall. In “The Black Cat,” the narrator conceals his victim, his wife’s, body behind a wall, unfortunately and unknowingly walling in the live cat as well. In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the concept of being buried alive assumes a prominent role, and in “The Tell Tale Heart,” the narrator buries the dismembered corpse of his victim beneath the floorboards. That Montresor lures Fortunato into his cellar and succeeds in chaining him to a wall in a hidden chamber and constructing a wall to seal that chamber off, his victim still very much alive, is a plot entirely consistent with the author’s approach to story-telling. What the story tells the reader about Montresor is that he is a cunning and easily wounded figure who is capable of meticulously planning and carrying out the murder of someone he seriously dislikes. Getting away with murder is easier said than done, but Montresor is careful in his planning and execution. He has clearly been letting an unspecified series of grievances eat away at him for some time, and invested time and energy in carrying out his plot. He is also a psychopath who exhibits no remorse. Fortunato may be an irritating figure, but nothing is conveyed in “The Cask of Amontillado” that suggests he deserves to die. Poe being Poe, however, gruesome death is preordained.
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