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 three details make Montresor an "untrustworthy narrator" in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

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An untrustworthy narrator can be identified by several key elements;

  • The narrator's perspective and opinions are the only one we are exposed to.
  • The narrator fails to give details about an important event.
  • Opinions are represented as facts.

Generally speaking, an unreliable narrator is one who provides us with incomplete or nonexistant answers to questions that are obviously important; in The Cask of Amontillado, this question might be "what did Fortunato actually DO to Montresor that merits burying him alive?

Much of Montresor's unreliability reveals itself early in the story;

  1. "The thousand injuries of Fortunato I have borne as best I could". Montresor does not tell us what these injuries are.
  2. "You, who so well know the nature of my soul," we do not know Montresor, but as the narrator, he is assuming that we understand and agree with him.
  3. "For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them." This sentence appears at the end of the story and makes it clear that this entire affair took place long ago; it is unclear exactly how old Montresor is at this point, but we might assume anywhere from 70 to 100; this casts doubt on the timeline as well as his memory.
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What are some examples of why you know the narrator is unreliable in the story "The Cask of Amontillado"?

As a first person narrator making what is probably a death bed confession fifty years after the fact, Montresor is telling the story in a way most likely to justify what he has done. We have nobody else's version of the tale with which to compare what Montresor tells us. Therefore, we have to take his word about what happened. This is the word of someone capable of murdering a rival in heinous way by walling him up in a catacomb and leaving him to die, so one has every reason to suspect that this narrator is mentally unstable.

Further, Montresor never specifies what were the "thousand injuries" he claims Fortunato perpetrated against him. That there were so many leads one to believe they must have been small. But if that is true, we wonder why Montresor reacted in such an extreme way.

All of this uncertainty, along with the barbaric nature of the crime, undermines Montresor's reliability as a narrator.

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What are some examples of why you know the narrator is unreliable in the story "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Montresor never mentions even one of the "thousand injuries" that Fortunato has supposedly inflicted upon him: 

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

Montresor also does not detail what the "insult" was. The reader could simply take Montresor's word for it, but that is an assumption. A narrator establishes himself as a reliable source by providing explanations and reasons for his statements. Montresor never does this with the injuries and insults. 

Montresor also brags about his ability to hide the truth: 

It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. 

Montresor proves how he can lie to and manipulate Fortunato. Since he is directly addressing the reader, who's to say he is not being a manipulative narrator as well? 

Some have suggested that Montresor's French name implies that he is new to Italy and therefore, he would have no Italian coat of arms. When Fortunato says he doesn't remember Montresor's coat of arms, this might be a minor insult because Montresor would not have a coat of arms. And note the motto: "Nemo me impune lacessit." This basically means "no one can harm me unpunished." It seems possible that Montresor could have made this up to underscore his feelings of vengeance. We can only guess what else he may have made up. 

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