In E. A. Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado", what are Montresor's rules for revenge?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is no passage in Edgar Allan Poe’s 1846 short story The Cask of Amontillado in which the narrator, Montresor, favors us with a list of rules by which he planned and executed the death of Fortunato.  To the extent that Montresor could be said to have rules guiding his plan to avenge the repeated insults of Fortunato, they are offered in the story’s opening paragraph.  The “thousand injuries” to which Montresor ascribes his growing need for vengeance, culminating in an unspecified “insult,” provides his motivation to exact vengeance upon his supposed friend.  In beginning his story of how he came to satisfy his need for vengeance, Montresor provides what could be interpreted as Rule #1:

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

So, we can surmise that Rule #1 is: do not alert your intended victim or anybody else as to your plans to conduct a murder or even to the sense of injury to which you have been subjected.  In other words, do not telegraph your punches.

Rule #2 is a little more explicit:

“I must not only punish, but punish with impunity.”

If Rule #1 is to provide no indication whatsoever that you harbor murderous designs upon a particular individual, then Rule #2 is to plan so carefully before carrying out the crime so as to ensure that nobody will ever know what you did.  That Montresor was successful on both counts is evident in his well-executed plan to entice Fortunato to his home under the pretext of asking his intended victim to sample an expensive wine, specifically, the Amontillado, to ensure that is the genuine substance for which Montresor has paid.  By appealing to an already intoxicated Fortunato’s vanity, Montresor is able to lure his victim into the trap.  That Montresor was successful in ensuring that Rule #2 was secured is evident in the story’s final sentences. Referring to the quality of his planning and execution of the murder and the concealment of the victim’s remains, Montresor concludes his narration by saying,

“For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat!”

aszerdi | Student

In Edgar Allen Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," Montresor forwards an interesting philosophy in regards to revenge. He states:

"I must not only punish but punish with impunity. 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.

It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued, as was my in to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my to smile now was at the thought of his immolation."

In the first paragraph Montresor states that revenge is something he "must" unquestionably do. However, he must execute his punishment while remaining free from the negative consequences of murdering a man. He then asserts that a wrong is never set right when revenge is the main aim of the individual whose goal it is to rectify that wrong. Thus revenge can never bring about justice. The term "as such" in this portion remains ambiguous. This phrase can be interpreted to refer back to the avenger, and that if the victim does not comprehend that the act of revenge is an act of revenge that wrong is not addressed in any form. These are two rules/ principles that Montresor adheres to, but they are also filled with major contradictions. Philosophically, revenge cannot make a wrong right, which is one possible definition of justice. However, Montresor executes his own kind of justice by carrying out his revenge. Futhermore, a wrong is not rectified when the victim is unaware of the act of revenge, necessitating a kind of truth, but that revenge can only be executed through deceit.

This deceit continues in the second paragraph where Montresor's behavior is a mirroring of Fortunato's, a display of excessive warmth and friendliness. Montresor matches deceit for deceit. The play on words at the end of the story, where Fortunado mentions Montresor's lack of a masonry status, and Montresor reveals that he is indeed a different kind of mason which allows him to murder Fortunado. Montresor continues this "eye for an eye" rule by matching Fortunado's offenses.

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The Cask of Amontillado

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