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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In "The Cask of Amontillado," does Montresor feel guilty about killing Fortunato?

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It is possible to argue that Montresor does feel guilt when he kills Fortunato in "The Cask of Amontillado." He blames the dampness of the catacombs for his “heart [growing] sick” as he walled Fortunato in, and he says that he “struggled with [the] weight” of the last stone. However, the dampness didn’t bother him before, nor did he struggle with the previous bricks. These new feelings can be interpreted as guilt.

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This is certainly debatable, as some readers believe that there is no evidence of guilt on Montresor’s part; however, I argue that there is evidence to support the idea that he feels guilty. When he first begins to tell the story, Montresor sounds incredibly determined and resolute. He seems to feel confident that his adversary, Fortunato, absolutely deserves to face utter destruction, or, as Montresor puts it, “immolation.” Throughout the story, Fortunato’s proud, imperious behavior invites further contempt from Montresor.

However, in the end, when Fortunato has, pathetically, realized what fate is to befall him, Montresor reports, “My heart grew sick—on account of the dampness of the catacombs.” He is quick to blame the feeling he experiences on the “dampness” which has not, thus far, bothered him at all. Further, dampness does not seem to account for making his heart feel sick. It does not seem to be a physical feeling he describes but, rather, an emotional one, indicating that he might be having some misgivings about the murder.

Further, Montresor reports that he “struggled with [the] weight” of the final stone to be “fitted and plastered in” position, but, again, the weight of the previous bricks has caused him no trouble. This could suggest that his conscience is what burdens him rather than the physical weight of the stone.

Finally, one could argue that Montresor has gotten away with his revenge and that he has achieved impunity, as he was never punished by society for what he has done. So, why on earth would he tell someone about it now, some “half of a century” after he committed the act? I argue that he is on his deathbed, confessing to a priest because he needs to unburden himself before he dies.

In the story’s first paragraph, he addresses his listener, saying that this person is one “who so well know[s] the nature of [Montresor’s] soul.” This description would certainly befit a man of the cloth who is used to hearing Montresor’s confessions. Montresor reveals, also, that it has been fifty years since he killed Fortunato, making Montresor a very old man, assuming he was in his twenties or thirties when the events of the story take place. For all these reasons, one can argue that Montresor does feel guilty.

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In Gothic narratives such as Poe's "A Cask of Amontillado," the narrator has the "privilege of irrationality and passion over rationality and reason" (enotes).  That being stated, it is, indeed, questionable that Montesor feels any guilt whatsoever over his murder of Fortunato.  That this murder is premeditated is apparent from the beginning of the story as Montesor mentions that he has borne "a thousand injuries," but now has finally vowed revenge and has a singleness of purpose, so typical of Poe's narrators.

Like a cat who toys with his victim before finally killing it, Montesor leads the unwitting Fortunato through narrow, damp openings in the catacombs, parodying him with mock gestures of a mason as he puns on the word itself, feigning concern for his welfare, only to take him farther until finally tethering his unsuspecting victim to a wall.  When Fortunato screams, Montesor hesitates as a cat hesitates to see so much life left in his victim.  He pulls his sword, not out of any guilt, but to reassure himself that there is no escape for Fortunato. 

In the final paragraph the irrational narrator wishes to still hear agony in his victim.  He "thrusts a torch through the remaining aperture," but a "jingling of bells" is the only response.  "My heart grew sick--on account of the dampness of the catacombs," Montesor says, and he hastens to make an end of his work.  Like the cat who is disappointed that his prey is now limp and no more fun to torture, he leaves the scene.  Certainly there is no guilt in the narrator's subsequent remark, proudly and mockingly said, 

JFor the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them.  In pace requiescat! 

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Throughout most of his evil deed against Fortunado, Montresor does not demonstrate any sense of guilt or regret.  In fact, he seems to be rather enjoying himself and his diabolical plan.  He teases Fortunado along, goading him and very cleverly manipulating the man to go further and further into the catacombs.  At one point, when Fortunado is screaming and struggling with the chains, Montresor states,

"The noise lasted for several minutes, during which, that I might hearken to it with the more satisfaction, I ceased my labours and sat down upon the bones."

So not only is he enjoying the screaming, but he sits down to relish it even more.

There is one point however, that Montresor shows a bit of hesitancy.  Guilt?  Not sure, but hesitancy for certain.  Fortunado picks up the pace of his screaming, and Montresor writes,

"For a brief moment I hesitated, I trembled. Unsheathing my rapier, I began to grope with it about the recess"

So, he is a bit worried and startled; he sticks his sword in to try to determine if Fortunado is still standing, or get a sense for what is going on.  He hesitates in his plan.  However, his hesitation lasted for merely "an instant" before he resumed his work with great satisfaction.

The best indication of guilt is at the end.  Fortunado has stopped making noises, and is silent.  Montresor writes, "My heart grew sick".  The thought of Fortunado dying in there, for a moment, makes him sick.  However, he blames it on "the dampness of the catacombs" and hurries away.  So, his sick heart does make him feel bad probably, but in denial, he blames it on something else and rushed away.  The fact that he is confessing his story at a later date might also indicate that he has felt guilty for it, because he is unburdening himself of the tale.

I hope those thoughts help; good luck!

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Does Montresor feel guilt when he kills Fortunato? And where is the evidence in the story?

Although Montresor, on the surface, insists that Fortunato deserved his grisly fate, there are several suggestions in the story that he feels some guilt over what he has done.

First, though we cannot be sure of it, Montresor seems to be telling this story as a deathbed confession, for we know the events he relates occurred fifty years before. It seems he wants to unburden himself before he goes to his final rest. However, if this is a deathbed confession to a priest, it may also be that Montresor, to complete his revenge, needs another person to know what he has done.

A stronger indication that he feels some guilt at the moment of his triumph over Fortunato comes in the following quote:

My heart grew sick

He says this as he is almost done walling Fortunato in. He thrusts his torch through the last remaining opening in his wall and hears in response only the faint jingle of bells. However, after a pause, indicated by a dash, he adds, as if to cover over his feeling of guilt:

My heart grew sick—on account of the dampness of the catacombs.

A reader might rightly ask: why should the dampness of the catacombs suddenly make him sick? Is it not more likely his heartsickness is from guilt at what he has done? Why does he hurry, as he says, to finish the job, rather than slowly exult in his triumph? Is it because he feels guilty?

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Does Montresor feel guilt when he kills Fortunato? And where is the evidence in the story?

In Poe's classic short story "The Cask of Amontillado," Montresor explains how he deceives his enemy, Fortunato, and ends up burying him alive in the depths of his family's extensive catacombs. Montresor does not go into specific detail about how Fortunato has offended him but explains his desire to enact the perfect revenge. Montresor is portrayed as a callous man, who carefully plans and executes the perfect murder. Montresor is able to maintain his composure in front of Fortunato and leads him into his family's catacombs under the assumption that a rare cask of Amontillado wine is waiting for him. After making their way through the extensive vaults, Montresor ends up shackling Fortunato to an alcove and begins to construct a wall around him. Before Montresor puts the last brick in place, he thrusts his torch through the remaining hole in the wall, only to hear the sound of Fortunato's bells jingling. Montresor then says,

My heart grew sick—on account of the dampness of the catacombs. I hastened to make an end of my labor. (Poe, 10)

Montresor's comment and brief hesitation suggest that he feels a hint of guilt for burying Fortunato alive in his family's catacombs. He then attempts to hide his guilt by blaming his sick heart on the dampness of the vaults.

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Does Montresor feel guilt when he kills Fortunato? And where is the evidence in the story?

There are two slight indications that Montresor felt some guilt for what he had done to Fortunato. Both of these indications, or clues, are to be found at the every end of the tale. He writes: "My heart grew sick--on account of the dampness of the catacombs." The break in that sentence suggests that he does not want to admit, even to himself, that he felt heartsick because of pity for his victim and that he quickly stops himself short and attributes his feelings to the dampness of the catacombs. He should have been thoroughly accustomed to that dampness by this point. The other clue is the Latin sentence at the very end: "In pace requiescat!" which means "Rest in peace." He may mean this with complete sincerity. He may sincerely regret what he did while at the same time feel satisfaction with the success of his scheme of revenge.

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