To whom is author Edgar Allan Poe referring in the first paragraph of "The Cask of Amontillado" when he says "you"?
The first few sentences in the paragraph are:
"THE thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely, settled --but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk."
Solipsism is the philosophical idea that the only thing knowable is one’s own self. In other words, everything a person experiences may be only a projection of his or her own consciousness, a product of the imagination, regardless of how alien, or vivid, or traumatic that experience or perception might be.
Some modern writers have played with the concept of solipsism by writing poems and fiction in which they completely neglect exposition and description on the assumption that they can only be addressing themselves and already know such things. The influence of the concept of solipsism can be detected in such writers as Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, and Franz Kafka.
Many readers have wondered whom Montresor is addressing as “You, who so well know the nature of my soul” in his short story “The Cask of Amontillado.” It seems possible, especially in view of the narrator’s advanced age, that he is in effect talking to himself. He was a lonely, friendless man when he committed the murder of Fortunato, and he is writing about it fifty years after the event. How could he still have a friend in whom he could confide such a terrible secret? He may have gotten into the habit of easing his loneliness by keeping a diary. Many people form strong attachments to their diaries over the years and will write the entries as if they are talking to a friend and confidant.
If the “You, who so well know the nature of my soul” is actually Montresor himself, this would help to answer some of the other questions that have been raised about this story. For example, many have asked why there is no information about the “thousand injuries” Montresor claims to have suffered at the hands of the man he killed. If his reader, who is himself, knows about these thousand injuries, there is no need to describe them.
Montresor makes it clear, especially in the third paragraph of the story, that he considers himself French and not Italian. Yet he does not explain how it comes about that his family has been living in Italy for hundreds of years. He doesn’t even name the city he lives in, since this would be something his reader, himself, already knows. That city can only be Venice. The accumulation of bones in the catacombs may not be those of the Montresor family. Montresor may not even own the palazzo he lives in but is only a tenant and has to occupy the property “as is,” bones and all. There are many unanswered, but not unanswerable, questions in Poe’s story.
Ernest Hemingway, who must have been influenced directly or indirectly as a fiction writer by the great Edgar Allan Poe, wrote in Death in the Afternoon:
If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.
I don't believe author Edgar Allan Poe ever identified the "you" to whom Montresor addressed throughout the story. It is clear that the story is being told many years in the future, since at the end of the story we are told that
For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them [the remains of Fortunato].
Montresor is obviously telling his story to someone quite close or familiar to him, since he addresses the listener as
You, who so well know the nature of my soul...
Montresor has never before revealed his dark secret, and it is only 50 years later that he has decided to tell his story. Could it be a close relative, like a son or grandson, to whom Montresor is disclosing his perfect crime? Or could it be a priest or pastor to whom he is confessing, possibly on his deathbed? The unidentified listener "does not appear to respond in any way as Montresor delivers a long monologue," nor does Montresor vary his matter-of-fact narration.
The most striking thing about Montresor's voice, in fact, is its uninterrupted calm and confidence. He tells the story from beginning to end with no diversion, no explanation, and no emotion.
It is clear that Montresor is not simply addressing the reader of the story, but an unknown acquaintance to whom he has decided to tell his macabre tale--without a hint of remorse or guilty conscience.