Pride is a feeling of satisfaction one derives from one’s own achievements, the accomplishments of those with whom one closely associates with, or from qualities or possessions that one widely admires. Pride is known as man’s greatest sin since it was pride that led to Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden. The Bible speaks of pride in Proverbs 16:18, stating, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” Sometimes a person’s pride can overshadow their good judgment, which in turn affects their actions. The result of this overzealous pride is can mean death for one person. It is also the sin of Montresor and Fortunato in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Cask of Amontillado.” Montresor receives many insults from Fortunato, and his pride leads him to seek revenge. He cleverly plays upon Fortunato’s pride and leads him to his death with the promise of tasting a nonexistent cask of Amontillado. In “The Cask of Amontillado,” Edgar Allan Poe uses the symbols of the Coat of Arms, the Cask of Amontillado, and the catacombs to illustrate how pride is a destructive force.
The power of pride is clearly seen in the character of Montresor and his family crest, the Coat of Arms. His pride in his family name is so great that “When [Fortunato] ventured upon insult, [Montresor] vowed revenge” (Poe 115). He cannot let himself be put down because he would appear to be weak and inferior, so he plans his revenge carefully. His desire to punish Fortunato is related to his family motto, “’ Nemo me impune lacessit,’” which means “No one dares attack me with impunity” (118). The Coat of Arms is an example of symbolism and foreshadowing in the whole story. Montressor’s description of it is “A huge human foot d’or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel” (118). In this image, the foot is symbolic of Montressor and the serpent of Fortunato. It suggests that Montressor will ultimately crush him. The fact that the foot is golden implies that his family has a rich heritage. Obviously his ancestors felt that they were above reproach, and their pride made them feel that any attack should be met with even greater force. That is why Montresor cannot turn the other cheek; he feels it is his obligation to demolish any “serpent” (118) who would dare to attack his honorable name by taking revenge upon someone who supposedly acts to undermine it. This belief leads him to his moral downfall as he plans and executes the murder of Fortunato.
Fortunato’s pride leads him into the trap that Montresor so cleverly lays for him through the Cask of Amontillado. Montresor knows that Fortunato has “a weak point…. He prides himself on his connoisseurship in wine” (116). Interestingly, Montresor sees Fortunato’s pride as a weakness, but he sees his own as a strength. Like the clever man he is, Montresor preys upon this point, creating a nonexistent cask of Amontillado that he knows Fortunato will do anything to taste. To ensure that, Montresor goes even one step further and teases Fortunato’s pride by saying that he plans to have Luchesi taste the wine because “if anyone has a critical turn, it is he” (116). Fortunato’s pride cannot accept that anyone is better at wine tasting than he is, so he insults both Montresor and Luchesi by saying, “You have been imposed upon; and as for Luchesi, he cannot distinguish Sherry from Amontillado” (117). So great is Fortunato’s pride that he does not see the effect his insults have upon Montresor; he believes that he can say and do anything because of his superior skills. Little does he know that his pride is leading him into Montresor’s trap.
Montresor continues to play with Fortunato’s intense pride as he leads him to his death through the catacombs. The catacombs were underground burial tunnels that lie far beneath the base of the house. Everything was moist and moldy since it is so far beneath the ground. Several times Montresor offers a way out for Fortunato by offering to turn back around because of his cough and the dampness of the catacombs, but Fortunato’s pride wouldn’t allow him to give up. Poe utilizes foreshadowing during this time when Fortunato implies, “I shall not die of a cough” (118). Montressor replies, “True-true” (118). Montresor knows that Fortunato will perish from his vengeful scheme. Fortunato is a proud man and he does not think something as petty as a cold will kill him. Another ironic statement during this scene is when Montressor’s stats to his friend that they should return because Fortunato’s “health is precious (117). This is ironic because Montresor does not really care about Fortunato’s health, for he is planning to kill him anyway. Several times it was Fortunato that urges Montressor to led him through the catacombs to the Amontallido pipe by insisting, “’ Let us go on’” (118). He cannot admit to any physical weakness that would interfere with his ability to taste-test the Amontillado. He must also prove that Montresor was taken advantage of; that would make him feel even more superior. Knowing that Fortunato will not turn back because of his pride, Montresor leads him to the crypt where he plans to bury him alive, saying, “’ Proceed,’ …’ herein is the Amontillado” (119). Montressor had made careful preparations for the murder and the catacombs were the perfect place. All of the servants attending the carnival, so there was no one at home. The pride of both men leads them to this terrible moment. Montresor’s pride causes him to commit murder without thinking for a moment about its immorality, and Fortunato’s pride blinds him to the effects of his insults and to his murderer’s intentions. His pride leads him like a lamb to the slaughter.
And so, Poe’s theme that pride can be a destructive force can be clearly seen through the symbols of the Coat of Arms, the Cask of Amontillado, and the catacombs. Both men contain flaws due to their intense pride and so are led to ruin by it. In fact, Montresor’s pride is still so great that after fifty years he is bragging about his perfect crime. He cannot see how pride led him to evil and immoral acts. Through his own desire to show his skill as a wine connoisseur, Fortunato causes his own demise. Through both Montresor and Fortunato, Poe is suggesting that man can easily be led astray by pride, and that can lead to spiritual and physical ruin. Pride is often a negative force in human existence. Obviously, pride is a weakness that man has had to contend with since the time of the Garden of Eden, and since everyone is all prey to its sting, one must always be on guard against this deadliest of sins. After all, pride can be a very dangerous thing when one is overwhelmed with it.