What can the reader infer about Montresor's social position and what evidence does the text provide that Montresor is an unreliable narrator?

Expert Answers
MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One can infer that Montresor is a wealthy man, judging by his many servants and large palazzo. He also seems well educated, speaking eloquently and using Latin and French phrases in his speech. While not as knowledgeable in wine as Fortunato, he knows enough to feel at ease discussing its virtues. His family is clearly an established name, judging from the catacombs filled with generations of Montresors. He also speaks at length about his coat of arms, suggesting that he comes from a well-respected clan. He himself seems well-known in the community, and he is familiar enough for Fortunato to follow him without question.

There is much evidence suggesting that Montresor is unreliable. He reveals in the first sentence that he intends to have revenge from Fortunato. Yet he never explains why, stating only "a thousand injuries" and "insult". If the narrator cannot even reveal why he is motivated to kill, he is untrustworthy. He tells the story to an unidentified "you, who so well know the nature of my soul,’’ but this "you" does not appear to respond in any way as Montresor delivers a long monologue. Is he addressing a random audience? A specific friend? Since we can't be sure to whom he is speaking, we can't be sure he is telling the truth.

The most striking thing about Montresor's voice is his outright confidence and determination. He tells the story from beginning to end with no diversions, no explanations, and no emotions. This sense of detachment is in itself unreliable. Of course, he is relating an event which occurred over 50 years ago, and we cannot be sure if he is correctly recalling his state of mind. In fact, we have no insight into his current state of mind, for he gives no reason as to why he might be telling this story now. If he is celebrating the anniversary of gaining his revenge, or if he feels guilty about his crime, he does not speak of it directly, and his language does not reveal it.

By presenting the story in the first person, Poe avoids responsibility for any interpretation of the action. Montresor is in control, deciding what to tell and what to leave out. As an audience, we are left at the mercy of this clearly unhinged character. A third-person narrator would have presented a more balanced story. An objective narrator telling a terrible story objectively might be frightening, but even more frightening is a man telling without emotion the story of his own terrible crime.

poetrymfa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Cask of Amontillado," we can infer that Montresor is a man of high status and wealth. Montresor hurries Fortunato to his palazzo, where his attendants are decidedly absent in order to celebrate. His house is well-appointed, and he describes leading Fortunato toward "several suites of rooms" to the vault in which his wine is stored. He clearly lives on a spacious property and enjoys the privilege of having servants—indicators of wealth and status. 

Textually, we can see that Montresor is an unreliable narrator because of his love for drama and lack of specificity. For example, he claims that Fortunato has caused him a "thousand injuries" and that his latest insult has motivated him to seek revenge. Yet, he makes no mention of what these injuries were, nor does he offer details about the insult which allegedly is egregious enough to warrant Fortunato's murder. 

Of course, the fact that he would go so far as to murder Fortunato in the depraved manner which he does also suggests something awful about Montresor's state of mind and reliability! 

Read the study guide:
The Cask of Amontillado

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question