“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. nce 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.