What does the narrator think of himself in The Cask of Amontillado?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One thing seems certain. The narrator thinks of himself as a Frenchman and not an Italian. He is not participating in the carnival, which is obviously the celebrated Carnival of Venice. He speaks of the Italians with some contempt, as in the following paragraph:

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 connoisseur-ship in wine. Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit. For the most part their enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and opportunity, to practise imposture upon the British and Austrian millionaires. In painting and gemmary, Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack, but in the matter of old wines he was sincere.In this respect I did not differ from him materially;—I was skilful in the Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.

He has a French name. His cellar is stocked with French wines. He wears a French cape. He uses French words such as flambeaux. The fact that he feels competent to judge all Italians in painting, gemmary, and wines indicates that he considers himself to be a good judge of painting, gemmary (jewelry) and wines as well as probably lots of other fine things which he cannot afford to own. Poe goes out of his way to identify Montresor as French, although the man must have been living in Venice for much of his life. The bones in the catacombs are obviously not those of his ancestors. The palazzo is not his either. He is undoubtedly renting the big old drafty decaying place that nobody else wants to live in; and he has to take the bones along with the palazzo. The fact that so many bodies were left to decay above the ground rather than being buried shows that this must be Venice. They can't dig graves because they would run into sea water only a few feet down. They have the same situation in New Orleans, where the bodies are interred in crypts above ground. If they buried them in the ground and had one of their notorious periodic floods, there would be corpses and skeletons floating all over the place.

Montresor is a relative newcomer, as his name is intended to suggest. He is poor, as he himself admits to Fortunato. Evidently Montresor makes a living by dealing in luxury items such as paintings, jewelry and wines. Who would be selling such things? Venice has been a decaying city for centuries. Aristocratic families have to part with treasured possessions in order to stay alive in their crumbling palazzi. They need someone who is knowledgeable, discreet, and trustworthy. Fortunato appears to be in the same line of business and to be sometimes a partner and sometimes a competitor. The thousand injuries Montresor has suffered have been in business dealings. Fortunato has beaten him out of lucrative opportunities because he is rich and he is Italian with innumerable social connections.

Here is an interesting description of Venice from Henry James's story "The Aspern Papers," which was published only some forty years after "The Cask of Amontillado."

I forget what answer I made to this--I was given up to two other reflections. The first of these was that if the old lady lived in such a big, imposing house she could not be in any sort of misery and therefore would not be tempted by a chance to let a couple of rooms. I expressed this idea to Mrs. Prest, who gave me a very logical reply. "If she didn't live in a big house how could it be a question of her having rooms to spare? If she were not amply lodged herself you would lack ground to approach her. Besides, a big house here, and especially in this quartier perdu, proves nothing at all: it is perfectly compatible with a state of penury. Dilapidated old palazzi, if you will go out of the way for them, are to be had for five shillings a year. And as for the people who live in them--no, until you have explored Venice sociallyas much as I have you can form no idea of their domestic desolation. They live on nothing, for they have nothing to live on."  

Note that Mrs. Prest says a dilapidated old palazzo can be rented for as little as five shillings a year. That is just a token payment. It is equivalent to about one American dollar. The owners can't afford to tear the places down, and there would be no point in doing so because there would be no financial incentive to build anything else on the land. Better to have somebody living there and keeping the place up.

Montresor is dependent on Fortunato because with the Italian's connections and money he can get involved in business deals which would otherwise be out of his reach. Fortunato is only interested in this nonexistent cask of Amontillado because Montresor says he bought it at a bargain price. A "pipe," which is what both men call it, contains 126 gallons. Fortunato assumes there must be a whole shipload available and that he could buy up the entire cargo and make a fortune. He doesn't ask questions about the wine because he doesn't want to show too much interest. He intends to cheat Montresor out of the deal, as Montresor fully anticipates, and thereby add one more injury to the thousand he has already inflicted.


mlsldy3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Cask of Amontillado," the narrator is retelling his horrible dealings to an unnamed person. From the opening line of the short story, you can tell the narrator sees himself as the victim. We can also tell that the narrator feels his revenge is justified. 

"The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge."

From these opening lines, we see how the narrator thinks of himself. We are never told of the injuries he has suffered, but in his mind they are many. He thinks because he has "suffered" from these injuries that he was in the right by doing what he did. He also sees himself as proud of his actions. He almost gloats about what he has done. Whomever he is talking to knows him well. The narrator says that this person knows his soul, so his auditor realizes that this is not the first time he has done these things. By the end of the story, we realize that the narrator is mad, and that he is actually a serial killer. The tomb he makes for Fortunato is surrounded by skeletons that the narrator says no one has disturbed for fifty years. The narrator is obviously not going to stop anytime soon.

Many have wondered who the narrator is talking to. I tend to believe that he is confessing to his priest, just because the narrator says his auditor knows his soul well. The narrator sees himself as untouchable, and perhaps only confesses his sins to his priest for absolution. It is obvious that the narrator is a killer and we better hope we don't make him suffer any injuries, or at the worst, any insults.

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The Cask of Amontillado

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