The Cask of Amontillado
by Edgar Allan Poe
Analysis: Narrator Point of View
Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?
First Person (Central Narrator)
Montresor is our vile narrator. He is dedicated to his own point of view, which is cold, merciless, brutal, conniving, and vengeful. He doesn’t mind telling us about his torture and murder of Fortunato; indeed, he thinks what he did was the just, right way to handle the situation.
Given his brutality and insensitivity, it might surprise you to learn that Montresor’s point of view also involves poetry and writing. A quick look at Poe’s philosophy of fiction writing will help you see how we come to this conclusion.
In addition to the idea of “secret writing,” which we discuss in “What’s Up With the Title,” Poe was very concerned with the form his stories should take. He wanted each story to be a little puzzle, with all sorts of hidden pieces we have to try to pick out ourselves. You can see this idea in the tight structure of “The Cask.”
Poe also believed that lyric poetry, or poetry that “is characterized by the expression of the poet’s innermost feelings, thoughts, and imagination” was the highest form of writing, and he wanted to bring short story writing up to the level of lyric poetry.
When we take all that into account, Montresor’s confession/brag-fest begins to look suspiciously meta-fictional. Meta-fiction means that a story or a moment in the story comments on the writing process in some way. It tells us how the author feels about writing.
Because Montresor is the guy telling the story, he becomes symbolic of the writer and is likely to have some of the writer’s habits – and here we mean both the literal writer, in this case Poe, and, in the larger sense, any person who is driven to express themselves by writing. This isn’t necessarily true of all first person narratives, but in Montresor’s case, it’s abundantly clear – even if we don’t know Poe’s philosophy.
Look at the names. Montresor, and Fortunato. Do those sound like real people to you? Of course not, because Montresor is making it all up and he wants us to know it. (See “Symbols, Imagery, Allegory” and the Montresor Family’s “Character Analysis” to find out why we think this.)
In addition to being phony, the names are rhythmic, song-like, and should remind us of Poe and poetry. For-tu-na-to. Mon-tre-sor. These are names to be sung, said out loud, like poetry. Amontillado is the only name not invented by Montresor, and it has that same quality A-mon- ti -lla –do – it almost seems like a combination of Montresor and Fortunato. It rhymes with Fortunato, and it shares a mon, which can mean both the possessive “mine” or “mound” or “mountain.” This might suggest positive feelings about the craft of writing.
On the other hand, as we say in the beginning, Montresor’s point of view is also extremely hideous and vile. Which suggests that maybe Poe had some mixed feelings about writing. His writer is a murderer. From a meta-fictional perspective, Poe, through Montresor, might be asking if fictionalizing one’s own experience, or the experience of others, cheapens, or even destroys the experience. It suggests that he fears that the very process of writing is somehow violent.