Who is the "you" addressed in the first paragraph of "The Cask of Amontillado"? When and why is the story being told?

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The terrifying short story "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe is, in essence, the confession of a murderer. A man named Montresor finds an acquaintance named Fortunato during carnival revelries and lures him deep into the family catacombs under his mansion. Once there, Montresor chains Fortunato...

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The terrifying short story "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe is, in essence, the confession of a murderer. A man named Montresor finds an acquaintance named Fortunato during carnival revelries and lures him deep into the family catacombs under his mansion. Once there, Montresor chains Fortunato to a wall, bricks up the opening to the chamber, and leaves him there buried alive. The only motivation that Montresor gives for this horrifying deed is that Fortunato insulted him.

There are several clues in the story as to who Montresor might be addressing and when and why the story is being told, but most of the answers ultimately involve speculation. The only definitive answer concerns when Montresor committed the crime. In the final paragraph, he describes finishing the brickwork in front of the chamber where Fortunato is chained, plastering over the bricks, and then finally placing a "rampart of bones." He then says that "for the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them." By this, we understand that Montresor is confessing to the murder 50 years after it happened.

In the beginning of the story, Montresor addresses "you, who so well know the nature of my soul." This infers that the person he is addressing is someone he knows intimately. Who would that be? We understand from the details that he provides in the story that he is of noble lineage. His family has their own crest, and they are wealthy enough to have private catacombs within which to inter their dead. Montresor refers to his home as a palazzo, or a palatial mansion. He can afford to keep servants and a collection of fine wines. From all this, we understand that Montresor is a nobleman with inherited wealth.

Since at the time of the murder, Montresor was presumably an adult in his twenties or thirties, by the time of the confession that comprises the short story, he would be in his seventies or eighties. He may be upon his deathbed and confessing his sins before he dies, perhaps as part of a sacrament or ceremony of last rites. In this case, the "you" he addresses in the story would be a priest who has come to give him absolution before death. It's also possible, though, that the "you" the story refers to could be a loved one that he trusts such as his wife, a child, or a grandchild, and he wants someone to know his terrible secret before he dies.

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This has been the debate of many literary critics over the years, so you won't find a definitive answer to this question. Based on textual details and character analysis, however, you can reach some likely possibilities.

I would argue that the "you" is Montresor's priest. After all, he notes that this person "so well know[s] the nature of [his] soul," and who better than a priest would be privy to the depths of a man's soul? There is an implication that perhaps this story is therefore a confession of a sin the narrator has been harboring for the past five decades.

The amount of time that has passed since the murder is also a consideration in this interpretation. He has harbored the crime for half a century, as he notes in the closing lines. He isn't a teenager in the scene when he lures Fortunato to the catacombs, so he must be at least seventy years old now. And he could be much older—perhaps even in his nineties. Thus, this could be his final confession before being led in the Apostles' Creed of the Last Rites, central to the Catholic faith's beliefs.

It is also worth noting that the final line is provided in Latin: In pace requiescat! This is actually a Latin prayer meaning rest in peace. The narrator doesn't seem to feel any particular guilt over his murderous actions, so perhaps this isn't a prayer for the dead Fortunato but for Montresor himself.

These elements support the idea that Montresor is confessing to a priest what he feels is his worst sin just before dying himself.

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The most likely explanation is that this story is a translation of an old letter written in Italian or French to a friend and found among some papers after that friend's death. Or it could have been a letter that was never sent and was found among Montresor's papers after his death. The event described could have taken place more than fifty years ago, because the letter itself could be very old. Montresor himself must have been quite old when he wrote this confidential letter (assuming my theory is correct). If he were actually speaking to someone, such as a priest or an old friend, the story would lose some of its verisimilitude, because the story is in English and Montresor is a Frenchman living in Italy. The story reads more like a document than like a spoken narrative. It is similar to Poe's "Manuscript Found in a Bottle" in its fictional format.

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There's been much speculation on whom Montresor may be addressing, fifty years after the fact. The second sentence reads, "You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat," which seems to imply Montresor is addressing his priest, a person who would well "know his soul," and to whom Montresor would not want to appear like a threatening person, especially since it is likely that--given the time span--he is now confessing his sins on his deathbed. This reading also lends a nice irony to the last sentence of the story,"In pace requiescat!" (Latin for "In peace may he rest.")

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