Why Does Montresor Want Revenge

Why does Montresor seek revenge in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Montresor seeks revenge on Fortunato in "The Cask of Amontillado" for reasons that are not explicit in the text. However, readers often infer that Fortunato may have insulted Montresor or otherwise wronged him in a commercial or social context.

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In Poe's celebrated short story "The Cask of Amontillado," Montresor does not specifically state his reason for seeking revenge on Fortunato. In the opening line of the story, Montresor comments that he has endured a "thousand injuries" from Fortunato but when his enemy "ventured upon insult," he decided to exact revenge. These "thousand injuries" are ambiguous, suggesting that the narrator may be unreliable. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that both Montresor and Fortunato are prideful men who hail from established families. Fortunato is described as a respectful, feared man who prides himself on his connoisseurship of rare wines and does not hesitate to insult others.

When Montresor interacts with Fortunato during the carnival, he elaborates on his recent purchase of Amontillado. He mentions that he plans on seeking Luchesi's expertise to authenticate the wine. Fortunato responds by saying,

"Luchesi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry" (Poe, 4).

Fortunato's brash personality and insulting comment may have sparked Montresor's initial motivation to seek revenge—perhaps Fortunato insulted Montresor in a similar way. There is also evidence to suggest that Fortunato is motivated to authenticate the rare wine in order to purchase a large amount to resell. A pipe is a large quantity of wine, and the Amontillado comes from Spain, which means that Fortunato would be able to make money off the rare wine. By reselling the Amontillado, Fortunato would be undermining Montresor's business plans and taking advantage of the unique opportunity. If this is the case, the audience might infer that the "thousand injuries" refer to the numerous times Fortunato undermined Montresor's business deals. There is also the possibility that the "thousand injuries" are completely imaginary, mere constructs of Montresor's delusional mind, which would make sense given Montresor's unreliability as a narrator. Overall, the "thousand injuries" and insults remain ambiguous, which contributes to the story's appeal.

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Montresor tells his audience that he wants to exact revenge on Fortunato as a result of some unspecified "insult" to his person and "the thousand injuries" Fortunato has inflicted upon him.  However, the story makes it seem as though it is both men's pride, in part, that prompts Montresor to murder.  Montresor tells us that Fortunato "prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine," and he plays on Fortunato's extreme pride, subtly offering him the chance to flaunt his own expertise and laugh at Montresor's lesser skills, an opportunity he knows Fortunato cannot pass up.  Fortunato even proudly insults Luchesi, the other town wine expert, insisting that he will accompany Montresor to his vaults.  Montresor warns Fortunato that the vaults are terribly damp and not likely to be good for his lungs, but Fortunato's pride is so great that he will not hear of staying above ground.  After one massive coughing fit, Montresor says,

Come. . . we will go back; your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter. We will go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible. (my emphasis)

Montresor butters up Fortunato further, knowing that compliments which flatter his pride will hit their mark.  However, he also says that Fortunato is happy, as Montresor once was, and this makes it sound as though Montresor's family is no longer as prominent. In other words, he is no longer as important socially, as Fortunato.  He says that Fortunato would be missed, but he (Montresor) would not be missed.  

In further support of this conclusion, Montresor comments in response to Fortunato's observation about the largeness of the vaults.  He says, "'The Montresors. . . were a great and numerous family."  He uses the past tense here, implying that the family is no longer important or large.  Moreover, the Montresor family's motto translates to "You will not harm me with impunity"; or, in other words, you will not harm me and get away with it.  Therefore, not only does Montresor have reason to exact revenge on Fortunato (as a result of the injuries and insults Fortunato has inflicted upon him), he also has his own injured pride, the result, perhaps, of his own family's fall from prominence (while Fortunato's star seems to be on the rise, something of which he is vastly proud).

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There is no specific reason given for Montresor's actions. He spells out his personal justification in the famous first line of the story:

The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.
(Poe, "The Cask of Amontillado," eNotes eText)

Since both Montresor and Fortunato are wealthy members of the upper-class, it can be inferred that they strive for the same status and recognition in society. Perhaps Fortunato blocked Montresor from an honor, or took his place in some fashion; it is seen later that Fortunato is a member of the Masons and Montresor is not, which could show how Fortunato is seen by the public in a higher status. The insult, which pushed Montresor over the edge, could have been aimed at himself, or at a member of his family. Montresor here seeks to repudiate Fortunato, but in his own way, secretly, so only Fortunato knows how and why he was killed.

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Many readers assume that Montresor is not stating the truth when he accuses Fortunato of inflicting a thousand injuries on him. These readers are then forced into concluding that Montresor is insane. The further conclusion is that Fortunato is a good person, an innocent victim of a madman. And thereby Poe's entire story is called into question. Montresor is accused of being an "unreliable narrator." If he is unreliable, then nothing he says can be taken at face value. Maybe the whole incident never happened. Maybe Fortunato is still alive--or maybe he never even existed. If this could be the case, then the effect of the story is lost. We cannot feel horror or pity because we cannot be sure that the supposed victim was really chained to the rock wall and left to die. "The Cask of Amontillado" is a work of fiction to begin with, but some readers would have us believe that there are multiple layers of fiction--everything is fictitious, nothing really happened, or at least nothing happened the way the narrator says it happened.

The simplest way to approach the story is to assume that Fortunato really did injure Montresor approximately a thousand times over a period of years. Montresor may not specify what those injuries were, but that doesn't prove they weren't real injuries. For example, what if Fortunato and Montresor were high-class tradesmen who bought and sold luxury goods, including paintinigs, statues, antiques, jewelry (gemmary), and gourmet wines. Fortunato is rich. Montresor is poor. Fortunato is able to beat Montresor out of deals because he can pay cash and buy in large quantities. These are the kinds of injuries Fortunato must have inflicted numerous times. And Fortunato, as Montresor knows, is planning to do it one more time that very night if it turns out that the sherry Montresor says he just bought is the true Amontillado. Fortunato is capable of judging the Amontillado to be an ordinary Spanish sherry and then going off to find the ship that has just brought the cargo into port.

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