Widely regarded as E. A. Poe's finest story, "The Cask of Amontillado" depicts a deed so horrific that for many it defines evil. Edmund Clarence Stedman said of Poe's writings: "He strove by a kind of divination to put his hand upon the links of mind and matter, and reach the hiding-places of the soul". Even though 20th century theories of psychology would not be formulated until many years after Poe's death, he nevertheless delved into the realm of abnormal psychology instinctively and perhaps never with a more terrifying outcome than in the character of Montressor, a man so bent upon revenge that he walls his enemy up in a crypt and leaves him to die. Is Montressor a madman, or is he evil personified? Is Fortunato merely the unfortunate victim of a deranged murderer, or did he entice Montressor to commit the deed? By applying 20th century psychological guidelines, one can speculate that Montressor is not insane per se but is afflicted with a malignant narcissistic disorder which, when aggravated by Fortunato's egotism and naiveté, drives him to commit his violent act.
Fortunato is depicted from the outset of the tale as arrogant and egotistical. Montressor begins his narration by saying, "The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge" (240). Though the exact nature of the insult is not made known, there are numerous examples of subtle slights by Fortunato throughout the narrative. Perhaps Fortunato is unaware that his comments are frequently demeaning but his remarks make him seem arrogant and uncaring. Early in the story, he indicates his belief that Montressor is not a true connoiss...
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...y points to a mental disorder but is not indicative of insanity as we define it. Did Fortunato's perceived insults drive Montressor to commit his crime? Perhaps they did, or perhaps Montressor needed little incentive. However, one thing is certain. If evil can be defined as the death or absence of a soul, then to look upon Montressor must surely be to glimpse the very face of evil.
Goode, Erica. "Stalin to Saddam: So Much for the Madman Theory." New York Times 4 May 2003: pg. 4.5.
Poe, Edgar Allan. "The Cask of Amontillado." Reading and Writing about Literature. Phillip Sipiora. New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2002. 240-244.
Stedman, Edmund Clarence. Scribner's Monthly, Vol. XX, May-Oct. 1880, pp. 107-124. Reprinted in Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vol. 16. GALILEO. .
Yen, Duen Hsi. "Shame." 23 May 1997. Noogenesis. 4 Mar. 2004 .
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