Pride and Revenge in The Cask of Amontillado
Pride can be defined as an unreasonably corrupt sense of one’s self-worth, status or accomplishments. Often times when individuals have excessive pride, they grow arrogant; this can lead to detrimental circumstances as seen in The Cask of Amontillado by American writer Edgar Allan Poe. The plot of the short story is established upon an alleged insult from Fortunato to Montresor’s name.
Montresor plans the perfect murder in effort to restore his family honor. The intense pride of both men, and Fortunato’s thirst for vengeance leads them to their inevitable death by means of Fortunato’s brutal murder and the decease of Montresor’s morality. As Montresor takes readers through the eerie catacombs towards Fortunato’s death, he personifies the darker aspects of the human subconscious. He battles with rationality and irrationality of his psyche, as he sporadically hesitates then quickly recovers from his moments of conscience.
From the beginning of the story, Poe portrayed Montresor as an individual whom is not mentally stable. Poe begins the narrative: The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge (331). It is reasonable to expect Montresor to describe the insult adequately for as to justify his horrific murder of Fortunato. Contrary to reason, Montresor does not provide evidence of such insults, implying that he does not even recall them. Nevertheless, he was adamant on inflicting harm on Fortunato for the said humiliation he felt. Although Montresor attempts to convince the reader his pre-meditated murder is righteous, he accomplishes the opposite. He is evidently blinded by revenge and does not reflect upon the possible consequences of his actions. Despite his thinking that murdering Fortunato to fulfil the family motto will ease his anxieties, his horrific act only serves as a stepping stone to his path of self-destruction.
In plotting his perfect murder, Montresor sets few conditions for Fortunato’s vengeance. The text states, 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 (Poe 331). Montresor wishes to exact revenge without facing any consequences or punishment for it. He believes his actions are justified and even noble, as he does so in respect to his family motto: No one insults me with impunity (Poe 333). His belief can be paralleled to him being the arm of God, as he sees himself as eliminating evil. If he receives punishment due to his apparently justified murder, the initial wrong-doing is not denounced. He also conditions that Fortunato must know the identity of his killer, as to allow for Montresor’s authority and intelligence to be asserted. Knowing that Fortunato is aware that Montresor is his murderer, Montresor gains the satisfaction of proving him to be smarter and better than Fortunato. Evidently, the motive of murder is envy and jealousy, which Montresor exercises by proving to Fortunato that he will trick him into falling into a death trap.
Pride is a theme widely represented throughout the story. Montresor entices Fortunato by playing on his pride, as he is well aware that Fortunato’s weakness is his connoisseurship in wine. Montresor tempts Fortunato with a said cask of Amontillado to lead him into his own tomb. The devious Montresor plans to exploit his so-called friend’s vulnerabilities as he manipulatively smiles in his face. Due to his arrogance, Fortunato believes he is more discerning than Luchresi, another local wine enthusiast. As they venture deeper into the catacombs, they simultaneously venture onto a moral decent. Montresor ill-intentionally insists on returning for the sake of Fortunato’s health, only for Fortunato to promptly dismiss him: Let us go, nevertheless. The cold is merely nothing. Amontillado! You have been imposed upon. And as for Luchresi, he cannot distinguish Sherry from Amontillado (Poe 332). Montresor’s seeming persistence on returning is very calculated. Fortunato comes to realize Montresor’s repeated implores to return, his refusal to oblige due to his ego, and conclude that it was his own pride that lead him to his death. Montresor uses reverse psychology to exploit Fortunato’s biggest flaw, so much so that Fortunato seems to ruin himself.
As the plot continues, the two friends journey deeper into the vaults and further represent the darker aspects of the human psyche. Montresor follows Fortunato at his heels, as though he is his shadow, into his imminent crypt, implying their merging into one. Finally securing him in the niche, Montresor begins to vigorously build the masonry. Placing layer after layer, Montresor feels little to no remorse for his action, still attempting to assert his dominance. Poe writes, I replied to the yells of him who clamored. I re-echoed, I aided, I surpassed them in volume and in strength (335). His echoing of Fortunato’s screams further illustrates their fuse into one. Montresor’s referring of Fortunato as him who clamored strips him of his identity and the name that was once celebrated. Montresor loses his humanity as he nears the final act of revenge while Fortunato is dehumanized by Montresor. Driven by conceit, Montresor is very adamant and insists on declaring that he is indeed superior to Fortunato, even in his last moments.
Despite what seems customary to Montresor’s character, he shows slight indications of guilt, though quick to dismiss them. The first suggestion of guilt is shown when Montresor is placing the last stone in the wall. The text states, I struggled with its weight; I placed it partially in its destined position (Poe 335). His struggling with the weight of the final stone is exceedingly representative of his guilt. As he struggled with the physical weight of the stone, he concurrently struggled with the psychological weight of the circumstances. Similarly, placing the stone only somewhat into its destined place is symbolic of his ongoing struggle with guilt. His slight hesitance to place the final stone illustrates that Montresor does not really want to murder Fortunato, but his family motto and arms inspire him to pursue his mission. As Montresor forces the stone in its final place, he simultaneously forces himself into a position that will induce lifelong guilt.
As the plot comes to an end, Montresor further illustrates his remorse. However, he immediately dismisses his slight thrust of conscience. After discovering that Fortunato was certainly dead, guilt crept through Montresor’s psyche. Poe writes, My heart grew sick; it was the dampness of the catacombs that made it so (336). Montresor acknowledges the sickness instilled in his heart but denies its connection to the murder. He has a brief moment of guilt and possible pity for his dear friend Fortunato, though he does not want to admit he feels anything, so he promptly blames it on the catacombs. Throughout the story, Montresor proves himself as an expert of human psychology as he uses his knowledge to deceive Fortunato. Despite his expertise, he does not seem to use it to his advantage, as he is no longer possesses a human psyche at the closing of the story.
In conclusion, Montresor evidently loses his humanity throughout the story due to his excessive pride. He is a man who genuinely cares of his family’s honor and is willing to go to great lengths to restore its name. For this reason, which he perceives as incredibly defensible, he decides to murder Fortunato by manipulation. Similarly, Fortunato’s arrogance also led to his demise as he was exceedingly anxious of his reputation as a wine connoisseur. The themes of revenge and pride are widely present throughout the story and are demonstrated through the actions of the characters.
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