In "The Cask of Amontillado", why does Montresor keep repeating the line, "I have my doubts."?
What song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, although puzzling questions are not beyond all conjecture.
Sir Thomas Browne, “Urn-Burial.”
In a famous review of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales, Poe defined the short story as follows:
A skilful literary artist has constructed a tale. If wise, he had not fashioned his thoughts to accommodate his incidents; but having conceived, with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out, he then invents such incidents--he then combines such events as may best aid him in establishing this preconceived effect. If his very initial sentence tend not to the outbringing of this effect, then he has failed in his first step. In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design. And by such means, with such care and skill, a picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction. The idea of the tale has been presented unblemished, because undisturbed; and this is an end unattainable by the novel. Undue brevity is just as exceptionable here as in the poem; but undue length is yet more to be avoided.
Poe expected the reader of "The Cask of Amontillado" to make many deductions, assumptions and inferences from the information Montresor provides. This is something new in fiction writing. It seems to foreshadow Ernest Hemingway's "iceberg theory."
If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.
Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon
There is a great deal hidden beneath the surface in Poe's masterpiece. Much of this is deducible or inferable to "the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art." Poe understood what Hemingway was talking about—and much more—long before Hemingway was born.
For example, Montresor twice tells Fortunato, "I have my doubts." He has already bought and paid for the pipe of wine, i.e., 126 gallons. Why does he need to satisfy his doubts after the fact? The obvious deduction from his speech and body language is that he wants to buy more before word gets around that a shipment is being offered at a "bargain" price. That is why he pretends he is going to see Luchesi, since he pretends he was unable to find Fortunato. Montresor never had any intention of going to Luchesi; he only uses Luchesi’s name to compel Fortunato to come immediately. Fortunato does not need to go to Montresor’s catacombs at all. He only goes to keep him from going to Luchesi.
Furthermore, by telling Fortunato he has his doubts about the wine, Montresor is providing his friendly enemy with the notion that it would be easy to cheat him. Montresor has suffered a "thousand injuries" at the hands of Fortunato and knows him well. He knows that if the wine really existed, Fortunato would sample it, lick his lips, frown, shake his head, and declare that it was only ordinary sherry. Then, assuming it was genuine Amontillado, this connoisseur would rush off to find the seller. It would have to be someone newly arrived aboard a ship from Barcelona. Everyone on the docks could point it out to him. Fortunato is a rich man. Unlike Montresor, he could buy up the entire cargo and make a fortune bottling and reselling it at his own convenience. Amontillado in an oak casket will not only keep indefinitely but will improve in taste and value with age. In terms of current American dollars, Fortunato is visualizing a profit of something like $100,000! When Montresor found out he had been duped, Fortunato would laugh and call it “an excellent jest.”
There is another reason which the person who contemplates the story with a kindred art should be able to deduce. If for some reason Fortunato cannot or will not accompany Montresor to his palazzo that night, Fortunato will still want to taste this gourmet sherry at the earliest opportunity. Since the Amontillado does not really exist, as we ourselves realize later on, Montresor will have to bring Fortunato a bottle of ordinary sherry and claim that this came from the pipe--which means that he will have to concoct a whole new way of killing his hated enemy with impunity. Fortunato will taste the sample and know it is not genuine Amontillado. He will assume Montresor has been cheated and will lose all further interest. Fortunato would undoubtedly learn that there was no Spanish ship in the harbor with a cargo of sherry, but Montresor could claim that the cask was delivered to him and he never saw where it came from. This could help explain why he has his doubts.
The statement "I have my doubts" is just one of dozens of clues to understanding the story, particularly to understanding how Montresor planned and executed the perfect crime he confesses to in his narrative. Every detail that raises questions in the reader's mind can be explained, not merely as plausible, but as essential to the author's creation of "a certain unique or single effect." The words "single effect" define the modern short story. Poe means a feeling, an emotional effect. That effect can come at the very ending, as in an O. Henry story, or it can be an effect that is created by the entire mood and tone. "The Cask of Amontillado," with its chilling ending, is a perfect illustration of Poe's rationale.
I presume you are referring to the passage below"
I said to him - "My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking to-day ! But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts."
"How ?" said he. "Amontillado ? A pipe ? Impossible ! And in the middle of the carnival !"
"I have my doubts," I replied ; "and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter. You were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain."
"I have my doubts."
"And I must satisfy them."
In his conversation, Montresour repeats his "doubts" about his purchase of a cask of Amontillado. He pretends that he thinks he was taken advantage of and tricked into buying a wine of lesser quality. He does this because he knows that Fortunado will not be able to resist a chance to sample the rare wine.
By repeating his doubt in his own ability to distinguish fine wine, he plays on Fortunato's pride. Fortunato is certain to follow him into the catacombs for two reasons:
- He wants to sample the rare wine
- He wants to show off his superior knowledge about wine.
Of course there is no Amantillado, and Montresour's plan to trick Fortunato by tempting him with the wine works perfectly.
There are at least four reasons why Montresor keeps repeating, "I have my doubts."
- He pretends that he needs to have a connoisseur sample the cask of Amontillado he has just purchased. He would have to have doubts about its authenticity if he wanted to be assured by an expert.
- He implies by his words and actions that he would like to buy more of the wine at the "bargain" price he mentions if he were sure it was genuine Amontillado. Also, that he is in a big hurry to buy more before word of the "bargain" gets around.
- He cannot be sure that Fortunato will come with him that night. If not, then Fortunato will certainly inquire about the wine the next day or at least very soon. Since Montresor has no Amontillado, he plans to bring Fortunato a bottle of ordinary sherry and claim this comes from the cask he just purchased. Fortunato will taste it, realize it is not genuine Amontillado, and forget about the matter. Montresor will have to think of some new scheme for killing Fortunato.
- Montresor knows that Fortunato would cheat him if he really had a cask of Amontillado. Fortunato would judge it to be ordinary sherry, then go and find the ship that had just brought the Amontillado into the harbor and buy up the entire cargo. By repeating, "I have my doubts," Montresor is suggesting that he could easily be discouraged from trying to buy any more of the wine. He is already half-convinced that it is not genuine. Neither man is interested in drinking 126 gallons, or 504 quarts, of Amontillado. They both regard it as an investment. "I have my doubts" is an open invitation to Fortunato to trick him.