A Study Of Montresor The Narrator In Edgar Allan Poe’s Short Story The Cask Of Amontillado
“The Cask of Amontillado” is a short story written by Edgar Allen Poe, and unlike most stories, the narrator may or may not be reliable with the facts that he presents. The story is about the narrator, Montresor, who vengefully deceives his “poor friend” (Poe 109) Fortunato into following him to his own death. As the narrator, Montresor, recites the story, you can see the swing in his mental state from vengeful to the complete opposite feeling of pity. There are many reasons as to why Montresor would be considered an unreliable narrator, but there are also a few as to why he would be considered reliable. This paper is going to explain the reasons behind why Montresor could be stated as both, and the reasons behind why Montresor wanted revenge. We will begin by looking at what the critics have to say about the story, and then move onto what I have to say about the story.
As stated before, some critics say that Montresor is a reliable narrator in the information he is offering to the reader, while others say that he is completely unreliable in the information given. I personally agree with both sides of the critics. I believe that Montresor could be considered both a reliable and an unreliable narrator. Through out this paper, we are going to look into the reasons why the critics believe that Montresor is a reliable narrator and why he is considered an unreliable narrator. We are also going to look at my personal reasons as to why I think he is both reliable and unreliable.
To begin, we will look at the reasons as to why critics think that he is a reliable narrator. One critic suggests that everything that Montresor says is “best taken literally, for if they are, other details fall into place” (St. John Stott, Graham). So this critics argument is to just trust Montresor in his descriptions as to what is going on based purely on the fact that it makes the story easier to understand if you aren’t second guessing everything that is being described to you. That is the only information that I could find on why to trust Montresor as a narrator, but now to talk about why critics and I consider him unreliable.
Now, Montresor is described as an unreliable narrator for a few main reasons. The main one is that Montresor is a murderer, and it’s hard to trust someone who kills people especially when his only reason to kill Fortunato is that “he ventured upon insult” (Poe 107). Also, when Montresor is telling the story, it’s difficult to tell whether the events happening are in a chronological timely order with one event happening right after the other. For example, he states that his “poor friend found it impossible to reply for many minutes” (Poe 109). That fact that he says that he didn’t reply for minutes could have meant that he didn’t reply for an hour for all we know as an audience. Another thing is that Montresor seems to leave out evidence. Even from the quote above there is a lack of evidence as to why he found it impossible to respond. All he says is that he had a cough, but he doesn’t ever explain where it came from.
This brings us to why Montresor could be considered a reliable narrator. As Fortunato was coughing, Montresor asks if he would like to return to the party that they came from multiple times, but Fortunato refuses saying “I will not die of a cough” and Montresor responds saying, “True” (Poe 109). At this time, Montresor is being reliable and doing a little foreshadowing because he knows that Fortunato will not die of a cough, instead he is going to die of hunger and thirst because Montresor set it up that way. Another time that Montresor seems reliable is when he is locking Fortunato up. Fortunato cries out to Montresor “for the love of god, Montresor, have pity on me!” and Montresor, now that his pent-up fury is dissipating, actually does feel pity” (Delaney 39). The fact that Montresor feels pity makes him seem like he actually has human feelings again, and it gives the reader an idea that maybe he isn’t all that bad.
Now we will move onto what some critics’ opinions are as to why Montresor wanted revenge on Fortunado. One critic states that “As Montresor himself remarks, Fortunado is the golden boy, ‘rich, respected, admired, beloved, ….happy….’”(Gruesser). Montresor, unfortunately, was not so lucky. He states that he once was, but “he has lost his status or contentment. To someone who is unfortunate, like Montresor, Fortunato’s happiness is a daily injury” (Gruesser). So because of that, Montresor feels the need to create a master plan to bring justice to Fortunato. All critics agree that it was an act of revenge. Personally, I think that it was definitely an act of revenge, but without good reason. If Montresor does give a real solid reason, Poe hides it very well in his writing. I think that Montresor was just jealous judging by what Gruesser’s opinion was on the situation. There must be more of a reason though.
One critic suggests that “He has his reasons for what he does, and these are reasons that we should be able to understand. There lies a deeper horror in the story” (White). This critic suggests that there must be a good enough reason for what he did so that he can feel justified after doing what needed to be done in Montresor’s mind. “Montresor is so convinced of his right in carrying out his plan of vengeance that he can speak of the killing of Fortunato as an ‘immolation’ (1257). We need not go so far as to see him assuming the role of a priest performing the ritual killing of a sacrificial victim, as some commentators on the story have done; but we should be able to understand that, given his family imperatives, he might well be able to see himself as a person carrying out a quasi-sacred duty” (White). I agree that there must have been some kind of reason behind why Montresor felt the need to carry out the duty, but I also believe that Montresor could very well have just been crazy.
This brings us to our next topic. Some critics suggest that Montresor was on a “demented or Satanic pursuit of revenge” (White). After going through many articles, I have seen a pattern in a religious aspect to the story saying that Montresor was satanic, but one critic stated, “Montresor has unwittingly reenacted the crucifixion” (Gruesser). A big reason as to why people have brought religion into the picture is because of one line in the story, which is when Fortunado cries out to Montresor to stop what he is doing he says “For the love of God Montresor.” “Fortunado’s cry is both a plea for mercy and a warning to Montresor to remember his own end and think of the afterlife” (Gruesser). According to Gruesser, when Montresor responded saying “Yes. . . for the love of God!” He was making a point to go against god, “damning himself for all time” (Gruesser). Other critics suggest that Montresor was just mentally ill.
This brings us to the next point in the story, which is when Montresor begins to feel pity for the man he is murdering. Montresor gives Fortunado many opportunities to save himself. This makes the reader think that there may be a chance that Montresor doesn’t necessarily want to completely go through with the murder, but he keeps on making ironic comments that are foreshadowing for what is going to happen. “Once he has punished Fortunato to his satisfaction, he can now feel sorry for his victim. Fortunado’s plea is only half-stated: the other half is implied. He means, in effect, ‘For the love of God Montresor, have pity on me!’ and Montresor, now that his pent up fury is dissipating actually does feel pity” (Delaney).
That situation is completely odd to me because the story is being told 50 years down the line. I thought that since Montresor was feeling sorry for Fortunado, he would regret what he had done in that moment, but he shows no remorse in that aspect. I think that Poe is just showing that Montresor has normal human feelings just like everyone else, but he still doesn’t regret what he has done because Montresor can’t let Fortunado escape from “the thousands of injuries” he has already inflicted on him.
The next topic this paper is going to look into is all of the irony and foreshadowing in the story. We will start by looking at the tile of “The Cask of Amontillado.” The word “cask” means wine barrel, but it is the root for the word casket which means a coffin. So you could argue that it is somewhat ironic that the word “cask” in the title was meant to figuratively represent Fortunado’s casket. Something else that is ironic is Fortunado’s name it self. When you say Fortunado, you can easily see that the word “fortune” is inside of it. This is extremely ironic because when you think of fortune, you think of good luck, but Fortunado has absolutely anything but good luck. He is being led to his own death and there is nothing that he suspects at all.
Another example of symbolic irony is the way that Fortunado is dressed. He is wearing a jester’s costume. This is extremely ironic because he is fooled into being following Montresor to his own death. Montresor gives him a lot of opportunities to turn back and foolishly, Fortunado denies each and every one of his opportunities to escape. It’s somewhat comical that he keeps denying the opportunities because as a reader you can see that Montresor is obviously up to something, but Fortunado is just so blinded to it. Another example of irony is when Fortunado asks Montresor if he is a mason, and Montresor responds saying he is a mason, but Fortunado meant the question asking if he was a part of the Freemasons. When Montresor responded, he did not mean that he was a part of the Freemasons, but instead he meant that he was a craftsman that builds with stone. This is ironic because Montresor will be building Fortunado’s tomb made out of stone.
Poe also uses a lot of irony within the dialogue between Montresor and Fortunado. For example, the first time Montresor talks to Fortunado he says, “My dear Fortunado, you are luckily met.” This is ironic because he is not luckily met at all. He is more like unluckily met. Another example is when Montresor and Fortunado are in the tunnel going to where Montresor is going to cave him in. Fortunado begins to cough for a reason that is not explained, but Montresor responds to this stating that “We will go back, your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; You are happy, as I once was. You are a man to be missed.” That is obviously a load of crap that he is saying that, but Fortunado responds saying that “The cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I will not die of a cough.” And to that Montresor responds saying “true,” because Fortunado is right. He will not die of a cough, but he will die of something much worse.
Now it is time to recap. This paper began by talking about whether Montresor was a reliable narrator or not. In the end, I have to agree with St. John Stott and Graham when they said the story is “best taken literally, for if they are, other details fall into place” (St. John Stott, Graham). If the story is not told in real time and if you can’t trust the narrator, then the whole story is a bust because it is impossible to know what is actual true and what isn’t. That ruins the whole point of reading a story if you can’t trust anything that you are reading, or if you have to over analyze every spec of the story to find out what is going on. It just takes a lot away from the story, so I think it’s best to just trust what the narrator is stating and move on from there. Even though there are many reasons why Montresor could be considered unreliable, it is better trust what he is stating as he is stating it because it just makes the reading much easier.
Next, this paper began talking about reasons to why Montresor killed Fortunado. As one critic suggested, “He has his reasons for what he does, and these are reasons that we should be able to understand. There lies a deeper horror in the story” (White). I must agree with this critic because nobody does something for no reason. It just depends on what Fortunado did that made him want revenge so bad to make a master plan to take him out and actually go through with it. The only reason Montresor gives you for killing Fortunato is that “he ventured upon insult” (Poe 107). After researching and finding other critics opinions as to why he did what he did, the only reasonable reason is jealousy. “As Montresor himself remarks, Fortunado is the golden boy, ‘rich, respected, admired, beloved, ….happy….’”(Gruesser). That is what made me think that. Montresor goes onto say that he was not so lucky. This makes me think that the main reason that Montresor went through with it is because Fortunado’s happiness was such a bother to him. His jealousy must have driven him enough to go through with killing a man who probably has never really done him much harm. Also, he very well may have been in an ill mental state because anybody in his or her right would not have done such a horrid task.
After reading through The Cask of Amontillado, I believed everything that the narrator was saying right away, but after thinking about it for a while, my thoughts changed. The reason why is because the narrator seems to be unreliable, at least in most cases. The first time reading the story, I thought that all of the events happening were one after the other with little time in between, but after thinking about it, my mind changed. It seems as if there could have been long periods of time between the events happening. For example Montresor says that his “poor friend found it impossible to reply for many minutes” (Poe 109). This could have meant any amount of time, and who knows what the narrator did to him to make him that way. Another reason is just based purely on the fact that he is a murderer. It makes it hard to trust that he is telling the complete truth. The last reason I think that he is unreliable is because he never gives a real reason for even killing Fortunado. He just says that he has “ventured upon insult” (Poe 107), but that could mean anything.
After researching “The Cask of Amontillado,” I realized that I had missed a lot of important details within the story. The details changed my opinions drastically on what was going on. Especially with a reason as to why Montresor would do something so horrid. I really liked when the one thing that the critic stated which was that “As Montresor himself remarks, Fortunado is the golden boy, ‘rich, respected, admired, beloved, ….happy….’”(Gruesser). This meant that Montresor must have been jealous. When you read you can see the hatred, but it seems to be for no reason. After hearing this idea, and reading through the story again, it makes much more sense. White stated that there must be a reason as to why he did it, and the reason must’ve been relatable to a normal person, and that is the most horrid part. I think the reason why that must be the most horrid part is because if it is relatable to most everybody, then that means we all have the potential to do such a bad thing over the feeing of jealousy and anger. So anybody who experiences jealousy and anger can relate to the feeling and the satisfaction of revenge. That is actual kind of a scary thought that Poe may have been trying to bring out of the reader. Suggesting that anybody can relate to such an act of vengeance, but feel pity at the same time when you realize that maybe it wasn’t worth it.
In conclusion, what others say compared to what I say is fairly closely related. I’ve come to the conclusion to trust Montresor in what he is saying. Also, I have come to the conclusion that Montresor may have been just a normal guy who was just experiencing very strong jealousy, and this makes it scary that anybody can potentially relate. Poe uses awesome irony and foreshadowing, and some comical gestures that make the story very interesting.
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