Edgar Allan Poe: Montresor and Revenge

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Many people who have been crossed in some way harbor thoughts of revenge, but the majority of people never act them out. While revenge can be a great motivator for violence, some instances are not as they appear, such as in Poe’s telling of a man named Montresor who builds a wall around his supposed nemesis and kills him in an act of retribution. This behavior is bizarre for several reasons, and the true terror of this tale lies in the demented psyche of Montresor. In “The Cask of Amontillado,” Edgar Allan Poe depicts Montresor as clinically insane through his use of serial-killer-esque characterization.

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First of all, Montresor’s motivations for his kill appear just as deluded as those of other deranged killers. It is established right off the bat that he had suffered a “thousand injuries of Fortunato” of which he “had borne as best [he] could, but when [Fortunato] ventured upon insult [he] vowed revenge” (Poe 61). However, there is no scene or explicit description substantiating this claim; Montresor never elaborates on exactly what Fortunato did as a way to mislead the reader and paint himself in a just light. He is not murdering Fortunato, he is only seeking retribution, because what Fortunato did to him is as terrible as death. This irrational thinking is very similar to what is seen in contemporary serial killers. Their sense of reality is distorted and they can only think in extremes. 

Poe is known for his unreliable narrators and Montresor is a perfect example of this; Fortunato could not have been so hostile as to deserve death because the next time he saw Montresor, he “accosted [him] with excessive warmth, for he had been drinking much” (Poe 62). While Fortunato is drunk, he is surely not so drunk to mistake his enemy for his friend. Fortunato trusts Montresor enough to visit his vault and treats him the same way one would treat a close buddy. This reveals an inconsistency in Montresor’s narrative. To endure so many injuries from Fortunato and to be insulted by him to the brink of revenge, only for Fortunato to turn around and be so amicable towards him implies that Fortunato either lacks self awareness, or that Montresor was extremely hyperbolic in his claims and that he is taking the situation out of proportion. Based on all the events of the story and Montresor’s declining sanity, the reader is inclined to believe the latter.

Secondly, Montresor is eerily consumed by his plan of revenge. He is more focused on the method and process of it all rather than the murder itself. He executes with intensely calculated measures, like when he tells his attendants he “should not return until the morning, and had given them explicit orders not to stir from the house” in order to ensure “their immediate disappearance, one and all, as soon as [his] back was turned” (Poe 63). Montresor’s uncanny ability to manipulate people paired with the enthusiasm for which he tackles this homicidal endeavor suggests more than a few loose screws.

He is proud of how much attention he’s given to detail and delights in the smoothness of his plan. He even indulges in a bit of tongue-in-cheek when he tells Fortunato that he is “a man to be missed” (Poe 64) and later when Fortunato asks him his family’s motto, to which he replies with “Nemo me impune lacessit” (Poe 64), meaning “Nobody attacks me with impunity” in Latin. It is all a big game for Montresor, Fortunato being his pawn, and the outcome an inevitable but exciting win. A neurotypical person would be satisfied with having their revenge and maybe even cackle happily at the downfall of their victim, but they probably would not be as elaborate and manipulative as Montresor, and they certainly would not murder.

Furthermore, Montresor has little to no remorse for what he does. In fact, he seems to take a sadistic pleasure in his actions as he hears Fortunato’s defeated laugh which “[erects] the hairs [upon] his head” (Poe 67). Fortunato’s verbal anguish thrills Montresor to a physical point. He takes so much satisfaction in the man’s pain that he feels disappointment when Fortunato stops responding to him, the absence of his noise causing his “heart [to grow] sick; it [being] the dampness of the catacombs that made it so” (Poe 67). Montresor was spurred on by the reaction Fortunato gave him, and when the fun was over, he deflated and simply finished the job. This brutal lack of care for Fortunato’s wellbeing can only reflect a twisted individual who lacks the ability to empathize; an insane person.

Poe’s portrayal of Montresor is chilling and all too similar to today’s killers. Many modern killers are motivated by revenge, such as the infamous Elliot Rodgers, a young man who swore revenge against humanity and labelled his day of attack the “Day of Retribution.” The reasoning for his attack was just as delusional and insane as Montresor’s; he was unable to find a girlfriend and underwent years of loneliness and rejection, eventually growing to resent women and men who, miraculously, were able to have relationships with them. 

As a result, he took it into his own hands to “punish women” and, in a rampage, shot and killed seven people. Of course, his act of “revenge” wasn’t really revenge at all. Elliot Rodgers was never victimized by women, but his distorted sense of reality led him to believe that he was. With that said, it is insanity, and only insanity, that allows a human being to take the life of another.  

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