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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Montresor is carrying out a vendetta against Fortunato, whom he claims has inflicted upon him a "thousand injuries." What these injuries are, the readers do not learn; they only learn Montresor's standards for revenge, with one of them being that the victim must not realize that he is avenged. 

The unreliable narrator, Montresor, declares that he has made an effort to bear "the thousand injuries" inflicted upon him by Fortunato, and the listener who "so well know[s] the nature of [his] soul" supposedly understands that what he plans is justified. Montresor, then, outlines how his plan for how revenge must be enacted. After Montresor lures the deluded Fortunato deep into the vault and fetters him to the wall, he builds other walls around him, fitting stones and plastering them. At first, Fortunato cries out, but Montresor makes no comment. "For half a century no mortal has disturbed them [the rocks]." Montresor's revenge is com-plete.

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I like gbeatty's answer, but I think as gruesome as this story is, Poe might be having some fun at the expense of society's bores.  What can be more insufferable than a wine snob?  Or the man (or woman) who believes himself to be worthy of brown nosing praise?  All of us, at one time or another, have wished these blowhards to be silent.  Naturally, wishing so and actually doing so crosses the line into crazy..

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A good question. Montressor feels justified taking revenge because of two reasons. The first is the general context: he's operating in a society that values honor and reputation, and he sees Fortunato as having done him a "thousand injuries" and then moving on to actively insulting him. That's the rationale. The other reason is, essentially, that he's crazy. That's what allows him to take a social slight—one that Fortunato seems not to even remember, or recognize that he's done—and use it to justify an elaborate murder.

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Why does Montresor feel he has the right to take justice into his own hands?

This is an interesting question. Evidently Monrtresor does not care about the moral or legal right to kill Fortunato and does not even consider it "justice" to do so.  He knows that what he intends to do is a criminal offense and that if he were caught he would be sentenced to death. He has no legal defense. He knows he is committing a crime and he doesn't care. He only cares about satisfying his desire for revenge and about not getting caught. In this respect he is no different from the narrator of Poe's story "The Tell-Tale Heart." That person too was aware that he was committing a crime and that it was a capital offense.

Even if Montresor were on trial for murder and recited the "thousand injuries" he had suffered at the hands of Fortunato, the horrible way in which he had killed him would have been sufficient to get him the death penalty. The entire story is about the careful way in which he managed to elude "justice." After all, if a man is going to commit a cold-blooded, premeditated murder, how can we expect him to be concerned about such a thing as "justice"? People commit murders all the time without worrying about justice, except in the sense that the agents of justice might find them out. The world is full of people like Montresor. He is a far cry from Dostoevsky's Rodion Raskalnikov, who committed a double murder in Crime and Punishment and was so tormented by guilt that he gave himself away and was sent to Siberia.

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Why does Montresor feel he has the right to take justice into his own hands?

Montresor is insane, but you should also consider his family's motto that no one harms a Montresor without being punished. Even his family's crest is of a snake biting a heel, so acts of revenge run in his family. We don't know whether other people in his family took revenge to the extent that Montresor does against Fortunato, but he believes he has the right to take justice in his own hands partly because of his family's  name, but mostly because of his madness. He has taken revenge to the extreme, and the reader isn't sure whether Fortunato even did anything to Montresor. Because he's insane, Montresor may have just imagined that Fortunato had insulted him.

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Why does Montresor feel he has the right to take justice into his own hands in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Montresor certainly has no legal argument for killing Fortunato: When it comes to his reasoning, it is simply a matter of revenge. Montresor tells us about "the thousand injuries" that Fortunato has bestowed upon the name of Montresor, unspecified acts that he has

... borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.

Montresor talks of being "avenged," but he never gives the reader a clue about what could have brought on such hatred and animosity. Certainly no insult or injury could warrant murder, but Montresor believes otherwise. Perhaps Fortunato has had some part in causing Montresor's extreme unhappiness, and his jealousy of Fortunato is obvious.

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.

Montresor's premeditative plan includes a two-fold clause: In order to satisfactorily fulfill his desire for revenge, he must both kill without being caught, and the victim must be aware of why he is being killed.

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 him wrong.

When the deed is done and Montresor tells his story, there is neither remorse nor satisfaction. His actions and reasoning are cold--immoral and unrealistic--and we can only wonder what final "insult" triggered this supreme act of revenge that resulted in a perfect crime.

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