The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe Book Review
In the short story “The Cask of Amontillado'' by Edgar Allan Poe, Fortunato insulted Montresor on such a deep level that Montresor’s only clear path to get revenge was to kill Fortunato. Montresor saw himself as a respectable gentleman, holding up the reputation of the Montresor family name. However his ego took over his mind, impeding his sound judgment and actions. Montresor’s pride drives his desire for revenge, ultimately fueling his manipulation and deceit toward others.
Poe’s use of symbolism portrays Montresors’ prideful nature. The arms and motto that Montresor lives by eventually becomes the only thing that defines him. As Montresor leads Fortunato into his familys’ catacombs, Fortunato asks the meaning of the Montresor Family Arms. Montresor responds in detail, wanting Fortunato to understand the hidden meaning.. Montresor explains that it is an image of a “huge human foot d’or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel” (Poe 181). The meaning of the arms is a direct correlation to revenge. The human foot being any person that hurts or tarnishes the family name, and the snake being that of a family member that carries the Montresor name. The fangs in the heel of the foot give the depiction that pain, suffering, and revenge will come to those that bring harm to the family or the family’s good name. Montresor lives proudly under the motto and meaning of the arms, it defines him and his actions. Fortunato listens to the description of the and then asks about the family’s motto. Montresor responds with “Nemo me impune lacessit” (Poe 181). Translated from latin, it means no one provokes me with impunity. Montressor lives by the motto and coat of arms and feels empowered to defend his family’s name and reputation, making his ego and pride feel justified. The entire conversation between Fortunato and Montresor about his family only fuels his obsession. While conversing, Montressor leads Fortunato deeper into the catacombs, they “passed through a range of low arches, descended, passed on, and descending again” (Poe 182). As both the men traveled deeper, Montresors humanity declines along with the elevation. Similarly, Fortunato’s state becomes more and more vulnerable to Montresor. The catacombs being a place of death and decay symbolizes how Montresor is slowly being overcome by his obsession of prideful revenge. His pride about his family arms and reputation pushes him to go deeper into the dark depths of the catacombs, further driving his hubris self into madness.
Montresor’s manipulation and deceit derives from his pride and distorted view of reality. Montresor forms his reputation from his family name, as it has brought him wealth and notoriety. Though his pride of the family name might be his top priority, his infatuation with revenge blurs the line between reality and delusion. Montresor explains that no matter who would wrong him, he “would be avenged” (Poe 179). Montresor’s mindset that revenge is the ultimate outcome against anyone that does him wrong gives him a sense of power. The power he feels from his family name, motto, and arms only enlarges his pride. Viewing himself as better or more powerful than others only makes his obsessive qualities more apparent. His pride and belief in justified revenge leads him to believe that he will not be held accountable for his actions; “I must not only punish but punish with impunity” (Poe 179). Montresor knows that his actions would normally be met with a punishment, but his pride and belief in justified revenge distorts reality. His thoughts become similar to those of a narcissist, believing that he is above others and making him feel that he can manipulate and deceive others with no repercussions. Montresor’s ego ultimately results in his committing murder against his friend Fortunato. As Fortunato began to become weak and more vulnerable, Montresor pretends to care telling him that “Your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was” (Poe 181). Montresor treat Fortunato with fake compassion and with deceitful intentions. He explains all the great qualities that society sees about Fortunato. He sees himself as superior to Fortunato, so the compliments were in a sense describing himself. When he talks to Fortunato, he speaks sarcastically, putting words together with no meaning and manipulating Fortunato to think that he cares about his well-being. As the success of his manipulation continued, his hubris led him farther into his deceitful plott of revenge. He noticed that the more intoxicated Fortunato became, his plan for revenge was only made easier, he saw that “The gait of [his] friend was unsteady” (Poe 180). Seeing Fortunato in a vulnerable state fed his pride and Montressor saw the perfect opportunity to exact his revenge, entombing his once friend within the catacomb.
Montressor’s pride in his family name and his obsession with seeking revenge led him to believe that he was justified in committing murder. He soon resorted to manipulation and deceit to further commit his heinous crime. While he spiraled into madness, his true nature was revealed through the symbols that told his life story. The characterization of Montresor was nothing less than manipulative and deceptive. His hubris obsessions resulted in manipulation, deceit, and ultimately murder, which he felt completely justified in committing for the honor of his family name. He descended into a state of madness and all over a simple insult.