illustration of Fortunato standing in motley behind a mostly completed brick wall with a skull superimposed on the wall where his face should be

The Cask of Amontillado

by Edgar Allan Poe
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What does the narrator of "The Cask of Amontillado" think of himself and to whom is he speaking?

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The story was published by a Mr. Edgar Allan Poe , but he did not claim to be the author. It appears to be a translation of a manuscript that somehow came into his hands. It must have been written in a foreign language, probably either in Italian or in...

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The story was published by a Mr. Edgar Allan Poe, but he did not claim to be the author. It appears to be a translation of a manuscript that somehow came into his hands. It must have been written in a foreign language, probably either in Italian or in French, but possibly in Latin, and Mr. Poe must have translated it into English for publication in an American magazine. According to this fictional device, the original manuscript was written by a man named Montresor. It was probably intended to be a letter to an old friend in whom Montresor felt complete confidence. Montresor obviously loves to drink wine, and he may have been drunk one night when he decided to tell his story to this old friend. It is possible that he never sent the letter because he thought better of it after he woke up sober the next morning. This hypothetical original manuscript would have been found among Montresor's papers after his death, or else it might have been found among the papers of his correspondent after that person's death. 

Montresor seems to think pretty well of himself. He committed a ghastly crime, but it doesn't seem to be bothering his conscience. Most so-called perfect-crime stories end up with the criminal getting caught because he overlooked one important detail. "The Cask of Amontillado" is a rare example of a perfect-crime story in which the criminal gets away with it and achieves complete satisfaction with the result. Poe could probably not have gotten a perfect-crime story published in the United States in the nineteenth century if it dealt with a contemporary American who committed a premeditated murder and got away with it completely. Poe distanced the crime in time and place. It occurred at least fifty years before the story was published, and it occurred in far-away Italy. Furthermore, Montresor, the man who wrote the story and the man who committed the fiendish murder, must be dead. So he is beyond the reach of the law. Mr. Edgar Allan Poe cannot be held responsible as an accessory because he is only a magazine editor offering a translation of an old manuscript he probably received in the mail.

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"The Cask of Amontillado" briefly introduces Montresor (the narrator) and his hatred of Fortunado, and the means by which he tricked and entombed Fortunado alive. We might assume that Montresor's reasons would be given voice, but they are not; we are merely told, in a tone of confidence, as though the narrator knows us personally, that the insult Fortunado delivered to him was basically the last straw in a long line of aggravations. Montresor fails to elaborate, but makes it clear that he feels aggrieved, and seeks vengeance both as a matter of personal satisfaction and as a matter of principle; the wrong must be avenged.

Following this introduction, the narrator doesn't really speak of himself or his motivations again, other than to make it clear that this story took place fifty years before. Thus, we have a considerably limited amount of information to go on, but we can make a few fairly safe assumptions.

  1. Montresor thinks of himself as an honorable, perhaps high-class person worthy of respect. We might infer that, because he fails to describe Fortunado's "final insult", it is in fact a trifling matter which would seem unworthy of a death sentence, but Montresor omits this detail so that we will not be distracted from himself and the wrong that he has endured.
  2. Montresor is shrewd, calculating and very measured in his appearances, a true Machiavellian character.

"You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat."

Montresor intends to give no warning of his plans, or even to make his displeasure with Fortunado known to Fortunado himself. Montresor is perfectly aware of the fact that this would undermine his revenge, and is thus a dangerous and duplicitous person, aware of and preying upon human weakness.

The question of who Montresor is speaking to is, largely, a matter of speculation. Based on the fact that the story took place 50 years before, we might assume Montresor's memory has been affected, or that the story is entirely fabricated. If it is actually  true, it seems clear from Montresor's personality that he would only reveal these details in confidence; thus, he might be telling the story to his adult child, or to a friend who knew Fortunado when he was alive, or perhaps to a priest by way of a confession. However, Montresor doesn't seem to show any sense of guilt or regret over his actions, thus the idea of confession seems less likely; perhaps Montresor is not actually speaking to anyone, but only reliving the story in his own memory. 

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