The Cask of Amontillado Questions and Answers
by Edgar Allan Poe

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In "The Cask of Amontillado," Montresor tells us, "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong." What does this mean?

In this quote, Montresor is saying that a wrong is not remedied when the punishment overtakes the person attempting to set right the grievance. The wrong is also not remedied when the person getting revenge does not make himself known to his enemy, who originally wronged him.

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From the opening sentence, we know that Montresor has "vowed revenge" on Fortunato, who has inflicted a "thousand injuries" upon him. He carefully establishes the conditions of his revenge in the opening paragraph, saying,

A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser.

Revenge cannot be attained if "retribution overtakes" the person who seeks the revenge. More simply put, if the person seeking revenge lashes out in an emotional outpouring, the revenge isn't complete. Revenge should be a calculated and almost emotionally detached act, in Montresor's opinion. In revenge, it is important to actually get even—not to just be seen as having an emotional breakdown in front of the person who has wronged you. This reminds me of the old saying "Don't get mad. Get even."

Secondly, Montresor notes that

It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.

Revenge, according to Montresor, isn't complete unless the person who has wronged you knows that it is you who is exacting revenge. It can't be an anonymous act, and the person must know that this is, indeed, an act of revenge.

Montresor accomplishes both. He calmly executes his plan to lead Fortunato to his catacombs by taking advantage of Fortunato's known pride—a "connoisseurship in wine." Montresor actually plays to Fortunato's emotions, telling him that he is "a man to be missed" as they walk along and even tosses in a pun that he "cannot be responsible" for Fortunato's ill health, showing that he retains clear emotional control in this act of revenge.

He also makes sure that Fortunato knows that he, Montresor, is sealing him up in his tomb as an act of revenge, ignoring Fortunato's pleas "for the love of God."

According to Montresor's own definition, he has exacted a successful and complete revenge.

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In the opening paragraph of Poe's classic short story "The Cask of Amontillado," Montresor establishes himself as an unreliable narrator by vaguely stating that Fortunato had caused him a "thousand injuries," which motivated him to seek revenge. Montresor proceeds to define the perfect revenge by mentioning that one must not only punish, but punish with impunity. Montresor means that punishing an enemy will not suffice because it is imperative that the person taking revenge avoid the consequences of their actions. Montresor proceeds to elaborate on his definition of revenge by commenting that a "wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser." Montresor is saying that a grievance is not remedied or set right until equal punishment is inflicted upon the person responsible for the grievance. This means that the person responsible for the offense must suffer equally as the person they originally offended.

Montresor goes on to say that an offense is not remedied until the avenger makes himself known to the person who offended him. Essentially, Montresor is saying not only that the perfect revenge must up for the original offense but that the person seeking revenge must make himself known to his enemy. Montresor proceeds to elaborate on how he sought revenge on Fortunato for causing him "a thousand injuries" and abides by his narrow definition for the perfect revenge. Montresor cleverly convinces Fortunato to follow him into his catacombs, where he manages to shackle him to a back wall and bury him alive. Whether or not Fortunato's punishment fits his crime is a subject of much debate, but Montresor successfully makes himself known to his enemy and gets away with murder.

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The key to understanding these two sentences lays in a bit of vocabulary work.  To begin:

wrong (n.) a violation or offense

redress (v.) to remedy, correct, or rectify

So, if a violation or offense is unredressed, it means that the offense has not been made right by the offender. The redresser is the person who corrects or rectifies the wrong.

retribution (n.) punishment inflicted on someone as vengeance for a wrong 

overtakes (v.) becomes greater than; overshadows

avenger (n.) a person who inflicts harm in return for a wrong

A wrong isn't rectified if the person who is performing the payback (the avenger) doesn't make sure the offender knows where the payback is coming from.  In other words, Montresor won't be satisfied with merely punishing Fortunato; he needs to be sure that Fortunato knows it is Montresor who is doing the punishing. 

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In Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Cask of Amontillado" the narrator, Montresor, vows revenge against Fortunato for some undefined insult. Montresor says,

At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely, settled --but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. 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 felt as such to him who has done the wrong.

Montresor has made up his mind to put into effect a very diabolical plot where he will lure Fortunato into the underground vaults of his estate and kill the man by entombing him in the wall of the catacomb.

Montresor says that in order to be truly "avenged" he must not only kill his victim but also get away with the deed ("A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser"). Another prerequisite for true vengeance in Montresor's mind is that Fortunato must know exactly what is happening to him and who his murderer is (It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who he has done the wrong).

In the end, Montresor's plan works to perfection. Fortunato knows exactly what has happened and who is responsible. Montresor also gets away with the crime as indicated in the next to last line of the story when, referring to the bones, Montresor says, "For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them."

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