illustration of Fortunato standing in motley behind a mostly completed brick wall with a skull superimposed on the wall where his face should be

The Cask of Amontillado

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Describe the persona of Montresor in Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado". Why might Poe have chosen him as the narrator?

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Montresor, of course, is not a real person. Poe created a character who would have exactly the qualities he needed in a person who would commit the crime that his character will commit. Montresor is proud and vindictive. He is extremely intelligent and extremely cunning. He is sadistic. He is patient, willing to wait for a long time for the perfect opportunity to put his plan into effect.

Poe does not say so, but there is an implication from the way Montresor talks about Italians dealing with millionaires in art and jewels that both Montresor and Fortunato make their livings by trading in expensive merchandise such as paintings, jewelry, ceramics, antiques, and wines. The exact location of the story is not specified, but it can only be the port city of Venice, whose splendor is based on trade. The mention of palazzos helps to identify the locale.

One especially noteworthy aspect of Montresor's character is that he is poor. He is very sensitive about his poverty because of his family pride. Fortunato is rich. Since they are competitors, Montresor must have been beaten out of many transactions because Fortunato was able to outbid him. These are likely some of the "thousand injuries" Montresor has suffered at the hands of his "good friend." Fortunato entertains lavishly. Montresor must have suffered frequently from not being invited to certain gala affairs. Social snubs of various kinds would be among the "thousand injuries." Montresor is especially sensitive to social injuries because of his chronic financial distress.

Fortunato is interested in the Amontillado because Montresor says he got a bargain on a "pipe" of 126 gallons. Fortunato is thinking he might be able to buy a much larger quantity and make a lot of money. One good thing about wine as merchandise is that it doesn't deteriorate with age but only gets better if it is stored in wooden casks. Fortunato could take his own time about selling off the wine--but he has to make sure it is the real Amontillado.

It is impossible to read "The Cask of Amontillado" without thinking that Poe must have been projecting his own feelings into Montresor. Poe was adopted and then disowned by a wealthy man. Poe acquired upper-class tastes and then had to struggle to earn a living for himself, his very young wife, and her mother. He must have suffered a thousand petty injuries as he tried to maintain a position in society, and he had many enemies whom he might have fantasized about killing.

Montresor was Poe's creation. He was exactly the kind of person who could and would commit the crime he committed for the reasons he expressed.

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In Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," how would one describe the persona created for Montresor? Why might Poe have chosen someone like Montresor to tell his story?

persona in plays or literature is simply any character in the story. However, in psychology, a persona is defined as a mask or facade used by someone to satisfy the needs of a given situation. For example, someone might smile and act friendly during a party he doesn't want to attend. Although he is being nice and using good manners, he covers up his true feelings with a false persona. Similarly, the persona that Montresor presents to Fortunato is one of a humble friend who seeks a man's advice about wine. Internally, however, Montresor hates Fortunato and lures him to his death. For example, he greets Fortunato with his friendly persona as follows:

"My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking today!"

With such a warm greeting, Fortunato has no idea that Montresor is deceiving him. Secretly, though, Montresor's true feelings are vindictive as shown in the following lines:

"The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge."

 This can happen in any social class of any society, but Poe chooses to make his main character a nobleman because he would have access to property such as catacombs and wine vaults as described in this story. As a result, Montresor has at his disposal the perfect place to commit an act of vengeful murder. Therefore, the ideal character to lure an enemy to a prolonged and agonizing death deep within ancient catacombs would be a nobleman who has the means and hidden personality to carry it out. 

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In Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," how would one describe the persona created for Montresor? Why might Poe have chosen someone like Montresor to tell his story?

Poe wanted to write a perfect-crime story in which the perpetrator was never caught and punished. A contemporary story in which a murderer does not get caught--as the murderers do get caught, for example, in Poe's "The Black Cat" and "The Tell-Tale Heart"--would have been impossible to publish in his day because of certain unwritten literary conventions. Editors would have regarded such a story as a incitement to commit murder and a blueprint for how to do it without being punished. But Poe felt that a story about a perfect murder committed long ago and far away would pass censorship and not be too shocking for the reading public. His story "The Cask of Amontillado" was actually first published in a ladies' magazine. Montresor killed Fortunato at last fifty years earlier and in distant Italy. Montresor himself was probably dead by the time the manuscript came into the hands of Poe and he translated it into English. So Montresor had committed the perfect crime.

I am assuming that Montresor is not speaking to someone but that he wrote his story in his own language--either Italian or French--and sent it to a confidant or confidante by mail and that it was found among that person's papers after his or her death. Or possibly Montresor wrote such a letter but decided not to send it after all, so it was found among his own papers after his death. The style of the writing does not sound like someone speaking but like someone writing.

Since the crime was committed in Italy, Poe needed a first-person narrator who was living in that country. Poe could not write the story in the third-person because Montresor was the only person in the whole world who knew he had killed Fortunato, how he did it, and where he hid the body. Montresor comes across as a very angry, vindictive, cunning, and patient man. His name is French, which suggests that he is a relative newcomer to Italy and a permanent outsider to the best society. He sounds exactly like someone who would commit such a horrible crime. That shows the great genius of Edgar Allan Poe. Since Montresor is addressing someone whom he calls "You, who so well know the nature of my soul," he can leave out a lot of exposition and focus on the dramatic elements of the tale. This leaves many readers wondering about a lot of things. Some people even question whether Montresor really suffered the injuries and insult he claims motivated him to dispose of Fortunato as he did. Some readers think he must be insane--but it seems doubtful that an insane man could plan a perfect crime so meticulously and explain it so thoroughly to a third party. 

Montresor is a character who, like most characters in fiction, was hand-crafted to fit the role the author wanted him to play. He reveals in his dialogue that he was once a wealthy and socially prominent man but has fallen on hard times. This makes him hypersensitive--and it would seem that the "injuries" he speaks of included many cruel jibes from the wealthy and comfortable Fortunato. Montresor says to him:

“Come,” I said, with decision, “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." 

The fact that Montresor lives in a palazzo is not impressive. The palazzi of Venice were decaying and could be rented cheaply. All those bones in the catacombs are undoubtedly not the bones of Montresor's ancestors. They probably came with the palazzo and he had to put up with them because there was no place to move them to--and anyway, the landlord would never permit a tenant to dispose of all his ancestors' bones. Montresor is well educated and refined, but he is a poor man who lives from hand to mouth. He did not buy that "pipe" of Amontillado for personal consumption. A "pipe" of wine contains 125 gallons. He bought it because it was, as he said, a "bargain" and he could make some money by bottling and selling it by the case. The money would be important to him. If he paid, let us say, the equivalent of ten dollars a gallon and sold it for the equivalent of twenty dollars a gallon, he could make around the equivalent of twelve hundred dollars, which no doubt he badly needs. In those days he could live for a year or two on that much money. He has lazy and indifferent servants because he either pays them little or nothing at all.

Poe himself was adopted by a wealthy man and then subsequently disowned by him. Poe had to scratch out a living for himself his child-wife and her mother. He is secretly writing about himself in "The Cask of Amontillado." He made plenty of enemies as an often vitriolic literary critic, and "Fortunato" is probably a substitute for someone Poe would really like to kill. The story is like a dream. In dreams we often take real emotions and disguise them so completely that we ourselves cannot understand their real meaning. One of the functions of dreams is apparently to relieve ourselves of painful emotions through fantasy. When Montresor leaves Fortunato to die a horrible death chained to the rock wall, Montresor achieves "closure," and no doubt Poe obtained some degree of closure for himself by writing his story in the persona of Montresor.

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In Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," how would one describe the persona created for Montresor? Why might Poe have chosen someone like Montresor to tell his story?

The persona that Poe has created for Montresor is one of a man intent on getting revenge. His opening line makes this clear: "The thousand injuries of Fortuanto I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge."

Poe might have chosen someone like Montresor to tell his story because he is underestimated by people who know him, and would therefore not be suspected of any crime or any ill intentions. His attendants left as soon as his back was turned, although he "had given them explicit orders not to stir from the house," and he had a clear understanding of Fortunato and the things that would incite him to action.

The first would be a cask of fine wine, and the second would be a comparison to someone he thinks is below himself in the area of judging said wine. Montresor expertly maneuvers the situation so that Fortunato believes he is in the catacombs by choice, even as his breathing and coughing worsen. Because Montresor has presented himself as a friend to Fortunato, and given him no reason to suspect otherwise, the plan goes off without a hitch.

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In Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," how would one describe the persona created for Montresor? Why might Poe have chosen someone like Montresor to tell his story?

Montresor's character is defined by his extreme intelligence, cunning, and pride.  His personal pride and family pride combine to render him incapable of bearing Fortunato's "insult," whatever that may be.  He has already borne a "thousand injuries" at the hands of his nemesis, but however he has been insulted appears to have wounded his pride, and this means he must exact his revenge.  Further, his family pride compels him to live up to the Montresor family motto: "You will not harm me with impunity" (translated from the Latin).  His family pride means that he must retaliate for all the injuries he has received; his personal pride means that he must retaliate in such a way that he can never be punished for it.  "I must not only punish," he says, "but punish with impunity."  His intelligence and cunning render him supremely capable of achieving this goal.  His vocabulary alone indicates how smart he is, and his ability to "smile in [Fortunato's] face" without Fortunato perceiving that Montresor "smile[d] now [...] at the thought of his immolation" conveys his capacity for dissembling.

Poe needs a character like Montresor because a character who was less intelligent or cunning would not be able to pull off this crime, and, likewise, he must be this proud or else he would never be incited or motivated to commit the crime.  He plans out the entire trap so perfectly, exploiting Fortunato's one "weak point," hiding his own face and person while in the street so that he could not be identified later, arranging it so that his servants will all be gone without actually telling them to leave, and surreptitiously urging Fortunato onward by insisting that he turn back so that he understands, in the end, that it was his own pride that Montresor effectively used as a weapon against him.

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