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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What is the meaning of Montresor's statement about wrongs and retribution in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

"A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong."

Quick answer:

In this quote, Montresor is saying that a wrong is not remedied when the punishment overtakes the person attempting to set right the grievance. The wrong is also not remedied when the person getting revenge does not make himself known to his enemy, who originally wronged him.

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From the opening sentence, we know that Montresor has "vowed revenge" on Fortunato, who has inflicted a "thousand injuries" upon him. He carefully establishes the conditions of his revenge in the opening paragraph, saying,

A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser.

Revenge cannot be attained if "retribution overtakes"...

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the person who seeks the revenge. More simply put, if the person seeking revenge lashes out in an emotional outpouring, the revenge isn't complete. Revenge should be a calculated and almost emotionally detached act, in Montresor's opinion. In revenge, it is important to actuallyget even—not to just be seen as having an emotional breakdown in front of the person who has wronged you. This reminds me of the old saying "Don't get mad. Get even."

Secondly, Montresor notes that

It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.

Revenge, according to Montresor, isn't complete unless the person who has wronged you knows that it is you who is exacting revenge. It can't be an anonymous act, and the person must know that this is, indeed, an act of revenge.

Montresor accomplishes both. He calmly executes his plan to lead Fortunato to his catacombs by taking advantage of Fortunato's known pride—a "connoisseurship in wine." Montresor actually plays to Fortunato's emotions, telling him that he is "a man to be missed" as they walk along and even tosses in a pun that he "cannot be responsible" for Fortunato's ill health, showing that he retains clear emotional control in this act of revenge.

He also makes sure that Fortunato knows that he, Montresor, is sealing him up in his tomb as an act of revenge, ignoring Fortunato's pleas "for the love of God."

According to Montresor's own definition, he has exacted a successful and complete revenge.

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In the opening paragraph of Poe's classic short story "The Cask of Amontillado," Montresor establishes himself as an unreliable narrator by vaguely stating that Fortunato had caused him a "thousand injuries," which motivated him to seek revenge. Montresor proceeds to define the perfect revenge by mentioning that one must not only punish, but punish with impunity. Montresor means that punishing an enemy will not suffice because it is imperative that the person taking revenge avoid the consequences of their actions. Montresor proceeds to elaborate on his definition of revenge by commenting that a "wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser." Montresor is saying that a grievance is not remedied or set right until equal punishment is inflicted upon the person responsible for the grievance. This means that the person responsible for the offense must suffer equally as the person they originally offended.

Montresor goes on to say that an offense is not remedied until the avenger makes himself known to the person who offended him. Essentially, Montresor is saying not only that the perfect revenge must up for the original offense but that the person seeking revenge must make himself known to his enemy. Montresor proceeds to elaborate on how he sought revenge on Fortunato for causing him "a thousand injuries" and abides by his narrow definition for the perfect revenge. Montresor cleverly convinces Fortunato to follow him into his catacombs, where he manages to shackle him to a back wall and bury him alive. Whether or not Fortunato's punishment fits his crime is a subject of much debate, but Montresor successfully makes himself known to his enemy and gets away with murder.

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The key to understanding these two sentences lays in a bit of vocabulary work.  To begin:

wrong (n.) a violation or offense

redress (v.) to remedy, correct, or rectify

So, if a violation or offense is unredressed, it means that the offense has not been made right by the offender. The redresser is the person who corrects or rectifies the wrong.

retribution (n.) punishment inflicted on someone as vengeance for a wrong 

overtakes (v.) becomes greater than; overshadows

avenger (n.) a person who inflicts harm in return for a wrong

A wrong isn't rectified if the person who is performing the payback (the avenger) doesn't make sure the offender knows where the payback is coming from.  In other words, Montresor won't be satisfied with merely punishing Fortunato; he needs to be sure that Fortunato knows it is Montresor who is doing the punishing. 

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In Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Cask of Amontillado" the narrator, Montresor, vows revenge against Fortunato for some undefined insult. Montresor says,

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. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.

Montresor has made up his mind to put into effect a very diabolical plot where he will lure Fortunato into the underground vaults of his estate and kill the man by entombing him in the wall of the catacomb.

Montresor says that in order to be truly "avenged" he must not only kill his victim but also get away with the deed ("A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser"). Another prerequisite for true vengeance in Montresor's mind is that Fortunato must know exactly what is happening to him and who his murderer is (It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who he has done the wrong).

In the end, Montresor's plan works to perfection. Fortunato knows exactly what has happened and who is responsible. Montresor also gets away with the crime as indicated in the next to last line of the story when, referring to the bones, Montresor says, "For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them."

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In "The Cask of Amontillado," what is the meaning of the phrase "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser"?

In Poe's classic short story "The Cask of Amontillado,” Montresor is the unreliable narrator and protagonist who is obsessed with seeking revenge on his enemy, Fortunato. Before Montresor elaborates on his brilliant plan to get revenge, he expounds upon his strict definition of revenge. Montresor begins by stating that one must not only punish their enemy but do so with impunity. In other words, Montresor believes that it is necessary to not get caught while taking revenge. Montresor goes on to say:

A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser (Poe 1)

The word unredressed means "not set right" or "unfixed" while retribution is a punishment inflicted upon someone as vengeance. Therefore, Montresor is saying that a wrong will not be fixed or set right if punishment overtakes the person seeking revenge (redresser). This is another way of saying that one must avenge their enemy with impunity and avoid being punished for their actions. Essentially, Montresor is adamant about not being caught, arrested, or punished for getting revenge.

He feels that in order to get revenge one must maintain their wits and focus by concealing their intentions and carefully executing a foolproof plan, which is exactly what he does. For the remainder of the narrative, Montresor describes how he cleverly manipulated Fortunato into following him into the depths of his catacombs, where he proceeded to bury him alive. Montresor ends up getting away with his crime, which proves that he followed his own advice regarding vengeance.

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In "The Cask of Amontillado," what is the meaning of the phrase "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser"?

This phrase is best understood within the context of the paragraph in which it appears; Montresor is talking about the need not only for vengeance against Fortunato, but vengeance that is conducted in a particular way.

I must not only punish, but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.

"I must not only punish, but punish with impunity" - impunity basically means exemption from punishment or vulnerability. Montresor needs to punish Fortunato in a way that will not cause Montresor to be punished, himself. He's basically saying that he needs to think of a way to take his revenge that will protect him from suspicion and ensure that he gets away with it.

"A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser." The word "redress" means to fix or set right. Thus this sentence might translate to, "A problem is not set right if revenge overtakes the person trying to fix it." Montresor is saying that he needs to keep his wits about him and avoid being overcome by emotion, or by the manner in which he conducts his revenge - otherwise, being punished for what he's going to do to Fortunato will make it look as though the justice of his actions is not complete.

"It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong." The person who committed the crime needs to know that his actions have brought revenge upon him, and that revenge is what is taking place, rather than some sort of accident or unrelated offense. Montresor needs Fortunato to know that he is being punished, otherwise his crimes are not fully addressed because Fortunato will not know why this is happening.

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In "The Cask of Amontillado," what is the meaning of the phrase "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser"?

Montresor has a number of conditions on the revenge he seeks on Fortunato. First, he says, "I must not only punish but punish with impunity." In other words, it is not only vital that he exact revenge on his enemy but also that he must punish this enemy without incurring punishment for himself.  Next, he says that "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser," which addresses an idea that is similar in some respects: Montresor feels that he won't actually have achieved his revenge on Fortunato if he, the avenger, must deal with some personal consequence for the revenge. This could refer to some form of punishment, but it could also refer to guilt. If Montresor spends the rest of his life feeling guilty about the revenge he takes on Fortunato, then how successful will his revenge really be? Some readers feel that Montresor does feel guilty about what he did to Fortunato and that this is why he is confessing it some fifty years after it has taken place. If this is the case, then his revenge has not been complete.

Montresor also says that a wrong "is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong." Thus, his final condition for revenge is that Fortunato must understand that Montresor is responsible for whatever pain or injury Fortunato is made to feel.

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In "The Cask of Amontillado," what is the meaning of the phrase "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser"?

Montresor takes a lot of pride in explaining (or over-explaining) the means, reasons, and effects of his revenge. In this phrase, Montresor is saying that a wrong is not really avenged if the punishment (retribution) controls or overtakes the redresser (Montresor). What is meant by "overtakes"? I think it means one of two things. The wrong is not really avenged if the retribution becomes more important than the person exacting the retribution. In other words, Montresor wants to punish Fortunato, but he wants this to be about himself and Fortunato. The other, more accepted explanation of this line is that the redresser should not get caught. This is what is meant by the retribution taking over the redresser. If the redresser gets too involved with the retribution, he may forget the overall strategy. He may get careless and get caught. He will be overtaken by the retribution. Montresor seems to be saying that revenge will not be as satisfying if he gets caught himself. So, he vows to remain in control of the retribution. 

This is why Montresor chooses to bury Fortunato. He essentially hides all evidence of his crime. In this way, he completely controls the retribution and the evidence. 

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In "The Cask of Amontillado," what is the meaning of the phrase "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser"?

These are the words of narrator in the exposition of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" as Montresor offers the reader his explanation of veritable revenge.  According to Montresor, it is not revenge, or retribution when this retribution comes upon the "redresser" suddenly; in other words, when the avenger is himself punished by being caught or harmed, etc.  Nor is it retribution when the avenger does not reveal his hatred to the one who has done the wrong:

I must not only punish, but punish with impunity.  a wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser.  It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as much to him who has done the wrong.

The elaborate plan of the man who has endured "the thousand injuries of Fortunato" fulfills the requirements that Montesor has set down.  For, Montesor punishes "with impunity"  since the revenge has been exacted fifty years ago, and no one has discovered his victim: 

For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them [Fortunato's bells].  In pace requiescat

Montesor has also made himself known to his victim.  Fortunato cries out from behind the wall, "For the love of God, Montresor," and Montresor responds, "Yes,...for the love of God."

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In "The Cask of Amontillado," what does, "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser" mean?

If somebody kills a man in order to get revenge for something that man did to him, and then if the killer gets caught and either gets sent to prison or executed, doesn't the killer still have his revenge? Poe seems to think the killer has to get away with the crime without even being suspected, or else he has not gotten the revenge he is after. Yet there have always been many people who have committed revenge-murders and gotten convicted and who probably still felt satisfied that they had gotten the vengeance they desired. There must be many cases in which the person wanting revenge actually gets killed himself in the act of killing his enemy. I can't think of examples in literature (or in the movies, either) but there must be many examples. One example that comes to mind is Hamlet, who is killed indirectly by Claudius and then kills Claudius while he himself is dying. Doesn't Hamlet get the revenge he has been wanting all throughout the play? Another example that comes to mind which might be even better than Hamlet is Humbert Humbert's murder of Quilty in the novel Lolita (and in the film adaptation). Humbert not only gets caught but doesn't even try to avoid capture.

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In "The Cask of Amontillado," what does, "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser" mean?

Montressor clarifies that statement by saying, "I must not only punish but punish with impunity." He just doesn't want to get caught or exposed as the person who murders Fortunato. He is eminently successful because Fortunato completely disappears. He continually refers to Fortunato as his friend and his good friend because he doesn't want anybody even to suspect that he knows anything about Fortunato's disappearance.

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In "The Cask of Amontillado," what does, "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser" mean?

"Redress" means "to set right" or "to rectify"

"Unredressed"--- the opposite of above.

"Retribution" means "punishment that one deserves for a wrong he has committed"

Montressor is saying that Fortunato has not "paid" for having wronged him, so Montressor is justified in taking restitution for the "insult" done to him.

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In "The Cask of Amontillado," what does, "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser" mean?

This phrase was spoken by Montresor in the opening lines of the story as he tells the reader about the wrongs committed against him by Fortunato. The word "unredressed" means not right or not made up for. What Montresor is saying here is that the wrongs committed against him by Fortunato were never made up for or Fortunato never made the wrongs right so now retribution or punishment will have to serve the redresser, Fortunato, instead. He is basically saying that Fortunato has to pay and since he hasn't taken the time to make things right, he, Montresor will have to now take matters into his own hands and issue Fortunato a fitting punishment. Montresor is a very unreliable narrator because he is secretly scheming this revenge for some wrong which he never names and his revenge plot is more than a bit extreme.

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In "The Cask of Amontillado," what does, "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser" mean?

This quotation by the narrator, Montresor, as he takes revenge on Fortunato (a name ironic in and of itself, given how he will meet his most unfortunate end) essentially means that if he (Montresor) were to get caught and punished for what he is about to do to Fortunato, then Fortunato is essentially getting away with the wrong or wrong he committed against Montresor, even though he will be dead.  For this reason, Montresor leads Fortunato, who is inebriated, into the catacombs, chains him to a wall and bricks him in while Fortunato slowly becomes aware of what is happening.  In this way, Montresor has ensured that no one will ever find Fortunato, and his revenge will stand without punishment to himself.  This is one of several places where Montresor's ramblings and whinings about Fortunato show him to be not exactly playing with the full deck. 

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In "The Cask of Amontillado," what does, "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser" mean?

Redress means to make amends or to set something right and  retribution is payback or revenge. Revenge and redressment are essentially opposites of each other. A person who seeks to redress an unjust act is trying to make the situation right. Being overcome with feeling the need for revenge would make it impossible to rectify the wrong.  Try reading the quote this way:  A wrong is not made right when revenge overtakes the person who wants to make the situation right.  It is similar to the old saying that two wrongs don't make a right.  The quote suggests that a person who has been wronged may naturally experience conflicting emotions, but if the goal is to correct the situation, then it is imperative to control the desire for revenge. 

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What does the quote "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redressor" mean?

At the beginning of "The Cask of Amontillado," Montresor specifies his ideas of the perfect revenge. One requisite is that the "redressor," that is, the perpetrator of the revenge plot, should not suffer any kind of "retribution." The two main forms of possible retribution for Montresor would be to have the police authorities arrest him for murder and to be found guilty, or to have Fortunato's many powerful friends and relatives suspect him of being guilty of Fortunato's disappearance and take private, personal action against him. No doubt if they had strong suspicions they would subject him to torture to make him reveal the location of Fortunato's body and then cut him to pieces.

Montresor guards against suspicion by pretending for years to be Fortunato's good friend. Montresor is the last person in the world anyone would suspect of being involved in a crime against Fortunato because it is so well known that the two men are the best of friends. Throughout the tale Montresor keeps addressing Fortunato as his friend, his poor friend, and his good friend; and he refers to him in the same terms. This is because he has forced himself to think of his enemy as his friend in order to be able to maintain a totally friendly manner toward him. Montresor has so conditioned himself to calling Fortunato his good friend that he keeps doing it from force of habit.

Poe's entire purpose in creating these details is to leave the reader assured that the revenge was perfect. Montresor had to think about the future. It wasn't enough just to wall Fortunato up and leave him to die. Montresor had to be totally above suspicion for years after the event, because there would be investigations and discussions of this strange disappearance for a long time, during which Montresor would have to act just as concerned and just as mystified as everybody else. We see enough of Montresor in the story to feel assured that he will be able to play his part to perfection.

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In Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Cask of Amontillado," what is the meaning of the phrase "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its addressor"?

Edgar Allan Poe’s classic story “The Cask of Amontillado” has one primary theme: retribution. From the first word of the story, the narrator explains to the reader that he has been insulted by Fortunato; consequently, he will be avenged.  This was definition of Poe’s stories: one singular purpose with every detail pointing toward that end.

The point of view is first person with Montresor narrating his vengeful story.

“I must not only punish but punish with impunity.  A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser.  It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who had done the wrong.”

When Montresor seeks his revenge, he must do it without being punished himself.  If Montresor is discovered or punished for getting his vengeance, than he will not have achieved his retaliation.  Furthermore, if Montresor does not make sure that Fortunato knows that it is he that is seeking to punish him, then his plan will also fail.

  • Insult=punishment
  • Insult with Montresor being punished for seeking his revenge---nothing is accomplished
  • Insult without Fortunato knowing that Montresor desires to punish him—nothing is accomplished

Montresor has gone to great lengths to plan his revenge.  He has set the time during the carnival when everyone will be drinking and reveling. His servants will be gone with his palace. The evil narrator knows that he can lure Fortunato down to the catacombs because Fortunato thinks that he is the only one who can recognize the amontillado.

The catacombs are deep within the earth and under the house of Montresor.  He has prepared the tools necessary to complete the final punishment.

Dressed as a court jester, Fortunato has been drinking too much.  He does agree to go with Montresor and taste the wine. As they walk deep into the catacombs, Fortunato has a terrible coughing spell.  Fortunato makes the statement that he will not die of a cough.  Montresor ironically agrees because he knows exactly how and when Fortunato will die.

Eventually, the two arrive at the end of the catacombs. Bones are lined from the floor to the ceiling which will also keep any sounds from reaching outside of the catacombs.  Before Fortunato realizes what has happened, Montresor chains him to the wall.  Fortunato screams and cries out; Montresor joins him in yelling.  Nothing can be heard on the surface. 

Montresor walls up Fortunato. When he gets to the last brick, Montresor has a slight twinge of guilt which he attributes to the cold in the catacombs.  He pushes the last brick in place sealing the fate of Fortunato.

At the end of the story, the reader learns that Montresor accomplished his purpose.  No one has discovered Fortunato’s body or tomb for fifty years.  His final statement on behalf of Fortunato is “Rest in peace.”  Montresor punished Fortunato without anyone knowing that he committed a crime.

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In "The Cask of Amontillado," what is the meaning and significance of Montresor's statement, "A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser"?

Indicative of his vengeful intentions and devious machinations, Montresor's statement also points to his careful preparations and "the very definitiveness" in planning the demise of Fortunato. As the second part of his explanation of the meaning of revenge, Montresor adds, 

It [a wrong] is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done that wrong.

Thus, Montresor establishes two conditions for perfect revenge:

  1. The avenger must not get caught in his revenge; if he is punished somehow--"retribution overtakes the redresser"--then he has not succeeded in attaining retribution against the one who has wronged him.
  2. The person against whom the avenger seeks retribution must understand what is taking place; that is, he must know that he is being punished for wrongs committed against the avenger.

As the remainder of the narrative demonstrates, (1) Montresor metes his revenge without discovery:

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

(2) And, before he dies, Fortunato is well aware of what is being done to him: Fortunato cries out, not as a drunken man, but as one who realizes his situation; he pulls vigorously on his chain in an attempt to free himself; he screams, hoping someone will hear him; he laughs in the desperate expectations that Montresor is merely playing a perverse prank upon him; and, finally, Fortunato pleads with Montresor, appealing to his Christian beliefs: "For the love of God, Montresor."

Indeed, Montresor has avenged "the thousand injuries of Fortunato" and with an audacious tone, he boasts in his tale of his perfectly executed retribution.

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