What does the narrator mean when he says, "It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong"? I think the first sentence ("A wrong is undressed when retribution overtakes its redresser") says that a wrong is undone once the avenger gets revenge? Does the second part mean that a wrong can also be undone if the avenger feels guilty about what he did to get revenge?

In the first paragraph of Edgar Allan Poe's “The Cask of Amontillado,” Montresor asserts that he will plan his revenge against Fortunato carefully so that he does not get caught and punished but also so that Fortunato knows exactly who is taking revenge upon him and why. Only then will revenge be sweet in Montresor's eyes.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The narrator, Montresor, carries a deep, dangerous grudge against Fortunato. The latter's injuries against Montresor are abundant, but Montresor has borne them quietly. Now, however, the time has come for revenge. Montresor will not settle for just any revenge, however. He will not threaten Fortunato. He will not let him...

See
This Answer Now

Start your subscription to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your Subscription

The narrator, Montresor, carries a deep, dangerous grudge against Fortunato. The latter's injuries against Montresor are abundant, but Montresor has borne them quietly. Now, however, the time has come for revenge. Montresor will not settle for just any revenge, however. He will not threaten Fortunato. He will not let him know that anything is wrong between them. He will take his time. He will plan carefully. He will eliminate all risk. He will punish Fortunato without any danger to himself yet in such a way that Fortunato will clearly know that Montresor is taking his revenge.

This is the key to understanding Montresor's words at the end of the story's first paragraph. “A wrong,” he says, “is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser.” In other words, revenge is not sweet or effective if the person taking revenge is caught in the act and punished. The original wrong still stands, and in fact, the wrong is probably actually multiplied in the eyes of the offended party, who now faces punishment for trying to punish his offender. His revenge has backfired, and the situation is worse than before. His offender can laugh heartily at his predicament.

Yet in Montresor's opinion, there is another element of equal importance. The wrong is “equally undressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.” Revenge isn't truly revenge unless the offender feels it and knows exactly why he is suffering and who is inflicting that suffering upon him.

So Montresor is planning his revenge carefully because he does not want to be caught and lose the satisfaction of his vengeance (leaving the original wrong still standing unpunished) and because he wants Fortunato to know exactly who is making him suffer for all the injuries and insults he has poured out upon Montresor over the years. Indeed, Fortunato will suffer, and Montresor makes sure that he knows exactly why and exactly who is responsible.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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 is simply saying that revenge is not successful if the avenger gets caught and punished, and, further, that the avenger will not feel satisfied with his revenge unless the victim knows who is responsible. It would not be satisfactory revenge, according to Montresor, if the avenger sent his enemy a bomb in the mail or shot him from ambush on a dark night. Montresor sets up these conditions for the perfect revenge, or perfect crime, and then proceeds to describe how he satisfies them.

Fortunato is intoxicated when Montresor encounters him on the street. He remains drunk on French wine until he finds himself chained to the rock wall inside the narrow crypt. But he must be sober in order for Montresor to be sure that he, the avenger, has "made himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong." So Poe, through his narrator, shows first of all that Fortunato becomes sober, especially in the following quote:

I had scarcely laid the first tier of the masonry when I discovered that the intoxication of Fortunato had in a great measure worn off. The earliest indication I had of this was a low moaning cry from the depth of the recess. It was not the cry of a drunken man.

Then the now-sober victim gives Montresor exactly the satisfaction he requires. Fortunato cries:

“For the love of God, Montresor!”

This is the first and only time that Fortunato addresses Montresor by name. It is proof positive that Montresor has fulfilled the second requirement of revenge he specified early in the tale.

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.

When Fortunato calls Montresor by name and begs for mercy, he is giving Montresor the main thing he wanted, which was satisfaction, or closure. Montresor did not want merely to kill Fortunato; he wanted to get rid of all the painful feelings that had been accumulating in his heart and mind from the "thousand injuries" he had suffered over what must have been a long period of time. It is likely that when Montresor concludes his narrative with the words In pace requiescat! he really means them. Fortunato has been dead for fifty years. Montresor has never been suspected. He has achieved perfect revenge and probably feels utterly cleansed of all the hatred that led him to commit his horrible crime. His victim is nothing but a skeleton dressed in the tattered, soiled rags of a jester's costume and still held in chains.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I think you're almost there. The first quotation, "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser," in my opinion, means that revenge backfires when the person seeking revenge gets caught up in the emotions and just lashes out. The verb "redress" means "to set right, to rectify." The point is to get even, not to lose your head. You haven't rectified the situation if your actions just make it worse.

The second quotation, which you ask about in your question, means that unless the person who wronged you knows that you have taken vengeance, you really haven't gotten any vengeance at all. It's like shooting spit wads at a person and not getting caught. The guy knows somebody was zinging him, but he doesn't know who or why. He has no awareness that it was in retaliation for something he has done.

I hope this helps you!

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team