What do you think was Montresor's motivation for killing Fortunato?

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Jane Ames eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While the story contains no explicit mention of a motive, it may be gleaned somewhat from the narrator's choice of words and the dialogue. Montresor's motivation is complicated. It has to do not so much with murdering Fortunato specifically as somehow avenging the decline of his family name and prestige. Our narrator is a deeply insecure man. These insecurities manifest themselves as a desperate need for decisive, bold action, namely murdering Fortunato.

As to the catalytic insult which triggered this whole thing? It most likely was something similar to the conversation the two characters had on their way through the wine vaults:

"The Montresors," I replied, "were a great and numerous family."

"I forget your arms."

Note that Montresor says they were "a great and numerous family." This implies the family has since dwindled and become less important. Montresor may logically feel ashamed or insecure about this, and thus he feels stung by Fortunato's lack of knowledge (or respect for) his family's importance. Fortunato does not know the family's arms or motto and does not seem to revere the Montresor name as Montresor thinks he should. Montresor resents Fortunato's arrogance and reads it as an insult to his entire existence—his name and family history. 

poetrymfa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Cask of Amontillado," Montresor wants to kill Fortunato in order to seek vengeance for the "insult" that Fortunato has dealt him. What exactly this insult entails, we do not know; Poe never tells us the specifics of the grievance; we only know that it comes after a "thousand injuries" dealt by Fortunato. 

Montresor then decides that he must punish Fortunato "with impunity." He lures Fortunato to his family's cellar with the promise of letting him taste his pipe of Amontillado. The already drunk Fortunato agrees, and, when they arrive, Montresor supplies Fortunato with more alcohol. At this point, he paves the inebriated man into an alcove, effectively sealing him into a suffocating, tiny tomb and leaving him there to die.

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