An Essay on The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe

Prompt: What can the reader infer about Montresor’s social position and character from hints in the text? What evidence does the text provide that Montresor is an unreliable narrator?


The narrator of The Cask of Amontillado is a man named Montresor. The story begins with him directly addressing the auditor of the story, saying that he had vowed revenge on a man named Fortunato who had dealt him “[a] thousand injuries” which he had “borne as best [he] could”, but finally, an insult heaped onto those injuries pushed Montresor past the breaking point (par. 1).


Montresor never tells the auditor what the injuries and the insult were, so the reader never has a chance to determine whether Fortunato has truly and gravely wronged Montresor or if Montresor is overreacting to a minor or perceived slight. Montresor’s reaction, though, suggests that the level of harm done to him was extreme. He is passionately focused on getting his revenge, but he is also meticulous enough to patiently and painstakingly plan it out. “At length I would be avenged,” Montresor says. We see that Montresor is someone who holds deep grudges. It is considered healthier to forgive and forget wrongs that are perpetrated against you, but that is the opposite of what Montresor is doing.


Montresor tells the auditor:


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 (par. 1).


Montresor is the kind of person who is convinced that his view of the morality of a situation is the absolute. What Fortunato actually did doesn’t matter. What matters is that Montresor wants revenge for it. Montresor is so convinced of his rightness that he insists that whatever action he takes against Fortunato is so justified as to excuse him from any kind of judgment for it. It is notable that Montresor seems aware of the fact that whatever he has planned as his revenge will be viewed as punishable by whatever societal authorities may be. He is aware of a need to avoid detection by witnesses and authority but still convinced that he is in the right. He also needs Fortunato to know that he is the one who has caused his punishment. It is not enough that something bad happen to Fortunato. Fortunato has to suffer and know that Montresor caused the suffering.