Motive of Revenge in ‘the Cask of Amontillado’

The Cask of Amontillado is a monologue story by Edgar Allan Poe. He illustrates the misery of detention and imprisonment through a horrific narrative that drives the readers into the dark cellars of revenge. The story begins in the historical era of Italy during the carnival season. Carnival was an ancient tradition in Italy, which occurred before lent. The use of masks to hide one’s face was every day, whose aim was to hide social differences. The story flows to a painful end and seems like a confession by Montressor, however since it is a story that happened 50 years ago, it can be assumed as one; he is narrating on his death bed. Montressor takes revenge on his friend Fortunato, in a brutal but well calculated in a story that lacks meter full of irony and suspense. With his cunning trick, Montresor lures Fortunato by inviting him to taste his newly acquired wine. He bricks Fortunato in the wall to death. However, the motive for this crime is unclear.

The main subject of the story is vengeance. The story is not based on an investigation as the criminal himself narrates how he executed his friend. The Cask of Amontillado, however, raises a strange question of ‘Why he does it?’ Creating a logical puzzle for investigation rather than the ‘Who does it?’. The question triggers the reader to evaluate and comprehend the events described by Montresor to determine the drive towards Fortunato’s murder. Montresor presents a complex theory of revenge when he says: ‘I must not only punish but punish with impunity.’ He also states that he would make Fortunato pay, but act with the greatest care not to suffer as a result, as wrong is not made right in that manner. Based on these, it is argued that Montresor failed to execute a perfect murder, so rather than having an act of successful revenge, he ends up suffering 50years of grief and guilt (Harris & Kathryn 1969). Similarly, the process of taking up mortar and bricking someone on the wall led to self-victimization. The phrase “you, who so well know the nature of my soul” is an illustration that the story is a confession.

The fact that Montressor decides to narrate or confess the murder of Fortunato 50 years later provides strong grounds to assume he has suffered guilty conscience for too long. The fact that Montressor remembers his heart grew sick, out of the cold and dampness of the catacombs, it indicates the empathy he had for the man he is leaving behind to die. However, this statement is not enough to prove his empathy, but rather it is an ironic statement. According to Baraban (2004), the hypothesis that Montresor’s story is a confession is true, the tune and temper with which he narrates the story is a clear indication that he is not remorseful. He rather enjoys narrating the story, similar to the time he was carrying out the murder. When Montresor states that ‘my heart grew sick,’ this statement makes the reader believe he is feeling sorry for what he did, but when he concludes on account of cold and dampness in the catacombs, it is clear that he is satisfied with the act he did fifty years ago.

Even if the whole story is a confession, the second part of the statement, ‘my heart grew sick,’ revokes any believe that Montresor is suffering from ravaging conscience (Charles 1991). However, earlier in the story, Montresor states that as soon as he laid the last tier, he sat back to listen to the furious vibrations of the chains. ‘The noise lasted for several minutes, during which, that I might hearken to it with the more satisfaction, I ceased my labors and sat down upon the bones. When at last the clanking subsided, I resumed the trowel'(Edgar 1846). This statement indicates that he is only confessing because he cannot overcome the feeling of guilt. In contrast, the tone used in the story can be described as calm and dry, which shows that Montresor is rational and does not express pity for his enemy. The story, therefore, depicts a lack of guilt and a successful act of vengeance rather than a crime.

The hypothesis that the motive of the murder is revenge is supported further by the Montresor’s statement: ‘A thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge’ (Edgar 1846). By this, Montresor’s quest for vengeance is spawned by the thousand injuries Fortunato had inflicted on him. However, there is no account for the injuries the Fortunato has caused him; therefore, the cause of Montresor’s revenge is as a result of insults. It is therefore not easy to justify the Montresor’s revenge, since there is no account for the injuries or the mysterious insults, making it even hard to determine whether Fortunato deserved capital punishment or not.

The time of the carnival plays a significant role in the story as it was easy for him to lure Fortunato into the trap. Carnival is a time for celebrating freedom; however, in the story, it was time for confinement, revenge, and murder. It was an appropriate time, as indicated in the story, Montresor’s family members and workers were out for the celebration, making it easy for him to disguise and kill Fortunato. The time of occurrence of murder in the story is described as about dusk; during this time, the celebrations are at the climax. However, dusk in this setting is intended to create a sense of horror and darkness as it is the time during which Montresor takes his revenge on Fortunato. The description of the underground passages beneath Montresor’s home is terrifying. The place has a significant contribution to the horror of the writing as it is described as dampened, cold, and with minimal lighting. The location creates a horror feel, with the smell of nitre on the walls and the presence of bones, remains of dead bodies. As they walked into the catacombs, Fortunato’s coughing becomes longer; his poor physical condition indicates inadequacy.

The large part of the story scenes is occurring in the catacombs. The catacombs themselves, their dark and damp nature, serves as a clear indication of confinement or slavery. As they walk deeper into the catacombs, Fortunato does not realize that most of Montresor’s words have a double meaning, for instance, Fortunato says that he will not die of a cough, Montresor agrees; ‘True-true.’ Montresor also mocks Fortunato’s membership in the order of Masons by retrieving a shovel underneath his cloak. Similarly, the whole application of the word Amontillado is a metaphor used to by Montresor, based on its root meaning monticula or mantilla, meaning a mound of some size. The walls of three sides of the crypt’s interior were decorated with human remains. “From the fourth, the bones had been thrown down, and lay promiscuously upon the earth, forming at one point a mound of some size'(Edgar 1846). Therefore the tasting of Amontillado wine has been a reference to Fortunato’s murder (Baraban 2004).

In conclusion, it is not clear whether Fortunato understands the reason for the terrible punishment. However, Montresor successfully executes his monstrous plan and punishes Fortunato ‘with impunity’ without facing retribution. Montresor does not, however, carry out the vengeance secretly but rather carries a well-planned execution himself. Montresor applies the phrase, ‘In pace, requiescat!’ in reference to show that he has accepted Fortunato’s repentance, as this phrase is used in Requiem mass by a priest who offers forgiveness to the death after confession. If Montresor was confessing, he should be looking forward to forgiveness but rather uses the phrase to pardon Fortunato, indicating that he avenged himself for the wrong Fortunato did to him.

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Motive of revenge in 'the cask of amontillado'. (2021, Mar 15). Retrieved August 9, 2022 , from

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