What are the personalities of both Montresor and Fortunato in Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Cask of Amontillado"?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Montresor reveals more about himself in "The Cask of Amontillado" because he is the narrator. He is obviously intelligent, as we can see from the way he expresses his thoughts and feelings. He is proud, as shown by the coat of arms he describes: a human foot crushing a snake, and the motto proclaiming in Latin, "No one injures me with impunity." He exhibits a wry sense of humor. He is lonely, gloomy, vindictive, envious, sinister, and cunning. He has suffered many personal losses, as he confesses to Fortunato, and is chronically hard up financially. This last is illustrated in several ways, including his comment about his servants to whom he gave explicit orders not to leave the palazzo all night, knowing they would immediately abscond to partake in the carnival. They have no respect for him, probably because they see his poverty and because there are times that he can't pay them.

Fortunato, on the other hand, is as prosperous as his name suggests. When they are underground, Montresor tells him:

"You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy as once I was."

Poe uses Fortunato's carnival costume to characterize him:

The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress and his head was surmounted by the conical caps and bells.

This costume, specially tailored for the occasion, may characterize Fortunato as something of a fool, but Poe's main purpose is to show that he considers himself a jester. People usually choose masquerade costumes that represent what they would like to be. Fortunato, in contrast to Montresor, is loud, flamboyant, egotistical, overbearing, happy-go-lucky, and hedonistic. He likes to drink. He is a connoisseur of wine because he consumes so much of it. As Montresor says:

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 connoisseurship of wine.

This is a weak point because it causes him to be an alcoholic and  enables Montresor to entrap him. But "he was a man to be respected and even feared." He demonstrates this when he is chained to the wall and in desperate fear for his life. He says:

"Ha! ha! ha! -- he! he! -- a very good joke indeed -- an excellent jest. We will have many a rich laugh about it at the palazzo -- he! he! he! -- over our wine -- he! he! he! . . . . But is it not getting late? Will not they be awaiting us at the palazzo, the Lady Fortunato and the rest? Let us be gone."

Fortunato shows his intelligence and cunning. He is giving Montresor a plausible excuse for letting him go if he can plant a fear in his captor's mind that people might come searching for him that very night and that they might come directly to Montresor's palazzo. He suggests that people must have seen them together on the streets and assumed they were heading for Fortunato's home. His words carry many suggestions, including the assurance that they will remain good friends, that Montresor will be welcomed into the bosom of his family, and also that a great many people are expecting Fortunato that very night.

But Montresor established early on that Fortunato was not expected anywhere. He knows that if he were gullible enough to release his captive now, Fortunato would be sure to get his revenge by having him murdered--possibly even murdered in the same horrible manner in which he is presently preparing to murder Fortunato. His captive is a powerful man with many friends. He is "a man to be respected and even feared."

Read the study guide:
The Cask of Amontillado

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