Essay, Research Paper: Cask Of Amontillado

Literature: Edgar Allan Poe

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"I must not only punish, but punish with impunity. 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."
With these ferverous words from the introductory paragraph of Edgar Allan Poe's
Cask of Amontillado, the story of Montresor's revenge begins. Poe repeatedly
stresses the need for revenge due to bitterness and resentment in Montresor's
character towards Fortunato, but more importantly, stress is placed on revenge
by which the victim realizes their injustice towards the redresser.
Unfortunately, it seems that Montresor is denied this pure and encompassing
revenge when his victim, Fortunato, during his last few minutes with Montresor,
believes that his actions are a huge charade, and not the actions of a man
scorned and seeking revenge. Although in burying Fortunato alive, Montresor is
able to physically accomplish what he ultimately desired, he is left with an air
of insatisfaction judging by his own definition of true and justified revenge.
Poe shows the resentment Montresor feels towards Fortunato from the very first
sentence of the story with, "The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne
as best I could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge." It is
never specified what this injury was to Montresor, but it was so obviously so
heinous that Fortunato was not to be spared. Later in the story, Montresor
implores Fortunato half-heartedly, "Come, we will go back; your health is
precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I
was." once again showing strong resentment towards the unsuspecting
Fortunato, whom he clearly blames for his present lower status. We soon see
foreshadowing of Fortunato's impending doom when the issue of Montresor's shield
of arms is brought into the conversation as "A huge human foot d'or, in a
field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the
heel.". Even more appropriate is Montresor's family motto, translated as,
"No one wounds me with impunity". Such a visual depiction and mental
conviction due to family honor and history creates all the more impetus in
Montresor to carry out the punishment that Fortunato deserves for wronging him,
and more likely the family honor. When Montresor finally captures Fortunato in
the catacombs, the climax of his precisely calculated deed, he revels in the
sound of Fortunato's chains rattling, and "that I might hearken to it with
the more satisfaction, I ceased my labors and sat down upon the bones".
However, his satisfaction soon turns to apprehension when suddenly "a
succession of loud and shrill screams, bursting from the throat of the chained
form, seemed to thrust me violently back". He hesitates at this moment,
when his revenge is sweetest, when he should bask in the suffering of his
"enemy", and finds himself contemplating the shrill screams of his
captive! He does eventually compose himself and takes a few more moments of
pleasure from his captive's struggles, but his apprehension returns just as he
places the final brick. He "struggled with its weight", showing his
confusion at the path his revenge is taking. The little pleasure he did derive
from Fortunato's suffering is further dulled when Fortunato asks Montresor to
finish jesting with him, and return to the palazzo with him. To the shock and
chagrin of Montresor, Fortunato does not even seem to accept that he is burying
him alive! Before he should change his course of action, a riddled Montresor
places the last brick as his "heart grew sick - on account of the dampness
of the catacombs.". Montresor, although successful in his settling of the
score with Fortunato, falls short of what he had said and hoped his act of
revenge would be. He achieved his revenge, but at a cost to him, the
"redresser". He is left with such a guilty conscience that he is
forced to confess to his crime 50 years later. As the "avenger",
Montresor also feels he fails to make Fortunato realize that he is exacting
revenge upon him, as shown by his frustration when Fortunato believes that the
situation he is in now is a joke on Montresor's account. Fortunato, instead of
begging for help and forgiveness, as Montresor wanted, laughed! "A low
laugh that erected the hairs upon my head. It was succeeded by a sad voice,
which I had difficulty in recognizing as that of the noble Fortunato.".
Noble Fortunato? Even after all the infractions he suffered to his person, and
all the pains he took in seeking and executing revenge, he refers to Fortunato
as noble? This is clearly his guilty and riddled conscience speaking. One can
also hypothesize that Fortunato did realize what the reality of the situation
was, and cheated Montresor from the satisfaction of his success by leaving him
in a lurch as to whether he did the right thing. What ever the case may be,
Montresor unfortunately never realized the true revenge that he had hoped he
would exact on his enemy Fortunato. Revenge, although executed exactly as
Montresor planned, still eluded him by falling short of his own expectations.
Physically, Montresor had won this match, but Fortunato had ultimately taken
away the sweetness of this victory that Montresor so eagerly yearned.
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