Tools of Characterization
Fortunato wears “motley,” and a cap with bells. This is classic fool or jester’s garb, but as any fool will tell you, fools have more than one side. That’s why the motley outfit is multi-colored, in patches, to represent the multiple aspects of the fool’s personality. Fortunato’s clothes urge us to look beyond his foolish exterior to see what drives him, because he may not be as dumb as he seems. His clothing is the main thing that alerts us to the fact that his character might be deeper than it appears. We really have to use our imaginations on this one, though. Montresor gives us a few clues: “a man to be respected and even feared,” but we don’t see any real evidence of Fortunato’s good qualities. But Montresor probably left lots of things out.
Montresor gives us less information on his own outfit. We know that when he’s ready to go to the catacomb with Fortunato, he puts “on a mask of black silk” and wraps himself up in “a roquelaire,” a thick cloak. We don’t know what color it is, but we do know he keeps a trowel in it – maybe all the time, maybe just for the occasion.
Both the mask and the cloak conceal identity, further hints that Montresor hides things from the reader. The mask also implies the role of executioner, and probably contributes to Fortunato’s ultimate horror at his killer.
Oh yes, and Montresor has a sword ("rapier"). He gets scared and whips it out at one point. This aspect of his clothing is one of the few indications that Montresor feels fear.
The name “Fortunato” obviously plays on the word ”fortune,” otherwise known as “luck.” If Montresor thinks that Fortunato somehow controls his luck, then his reasons for wanting to get rid of him permanently become a little more understandable.
Think about what Montresor tells Fortunato after Fortunato’s coughing fit: "You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter" (35). If we connect this to the “thousand injuries” and the “insult,” it’s easy to imagine that Montresor blames Fortunato for his problems. Life can be pretty hard. We’ve probably all had at least a thousand injuries, and at least one insult. If they were all committed by one person or one force in the universe, and if it looked like things were only going to get worse, we might want to try to get rid of the power that was screwing up our lives − perhaps even with a vengeance.
But wait, if Fortunato is fortune, then how can Montresor have fortune if he kills fortune?
Very good question. We can find an answer by looking at Montresor’s name, which literally means “my treasure.” With fortune/luck out of the way, Montresor will be forced to rely on his own treasure, his inner resources, for his good and bad times. With his vengeance for Fortunato satisfied, he has no one left to blame for his problems in life but himself.
Montresor narrates “The Cask of Amontillado,” relating the story of Fortunato's death fifty years earlier. Montresor's profession is unspecified, but it is clear that he is educated and wealthy, with a taste for fine things. Montresor holds a grudge against his “friend” Fortunato, claiming to have borne Fortunato’s insults to the best of his ability before deciding to seek revenge. Montresor reveals himself to be a skilled manipulator as he exploits Fortunato’s pride to lure him deep into the catacombs. Montresor’s conversation with Fortunato (who is drunk) reveals his ironic and darkly humorous nature: when Fortunato asks him if he is “of the masons,” Montresor pulls out the trowel that he will soon use to bury Fortunato alive. Once he lures the unsuspecting Fortunato into the deepest catacombs, Montresor mercilessly chains him up and walls him into a small alcove, leaving him to die. After Montresor has successfully walled Fortunato in, he appears to feel a momentary pang of regret but quickly attributes the feeling of sickness in his heart to the dampness of the catacombs.
For some readers, Montresor’s vague description of the “injuries” he has suffered at the hands of Fortunato brings into question his reliability as a narrator. Could Fortunato truly have offended Montresor so terribly, or is the offense only in Montresor’s head? On the other hand, Montresor’s cool, detached narration and his methodical planning of Fortunato’s demise suggest that though he is ruthless, he may be quite sane. As Montresor’s story is addressed to an unidentified person (who, presumably, knows things that the reader does not), readers cannot be certain to what extent Montresor’s revenge is justified. Just as we cannot be sure of Montresor’s motives, Poe leaves us in the dark as to Montresor’s feelings about the crime; is his exclamation “in pace requiescat!” (rest in peace) sarcastic or sincere? Some readers have...
(The entire section is 819 words.)