This story of the most heinous revenge is, like all stories by Edgar Allen Poe, very open to interpretation. One thing that cannot be disputed, though, is the theme. The fundamental theme of The Cask of Amontillado is revenge. While the reasons the main character, Montresor, desires revenge are rather unclear, the reasons for his motivation are not. The way he executes his plans also exemplifies a clever use of deception to amplify his vengeance. Unfortunately, though, the aftermath of his actions proved far less gratifying than what he foresaw. These elements of revenge consume this story in the usual vague and mysterious manner which we so often see with Poe.
Because this story is told in first person perspective from Montresor’s point of view, we cannot be completely sure what it is that Fortunato did to him, if anything at all. Montresor simply states that Fortunato insulted him. At one point, when speaking to Fortunato, Montresor claims, “you are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was.” By saying this, he implied that whatever it was Fortunato did to him, it made him lose those qualities of his life, causing him to be unhappy. Montresor implicates further blame when he informs Fortunato that, “the Montresors . . . were a great and numerous family.” This is the real concern for Montresor because he has a great pride in his family. This leads the reader to believe that Fortunato not only insulted Montresor, but his family as well.
This suggests that Montresor may be trying to avenge his family by killing Fortunato. This is further exemplified by the Montresor family motto, “nemo me impune lacessit,” which translates to, “no one dare attack me with impunity.” Here lies the main reason for Montresor’s drive for revenge. The motto of the family he loves more than anything flat out states that no one insults a Montresor and gets away with it. This message is also conveyed through the Montresor family crest, which shows a snake biting the very foot that is crushing it. The snake in this case, is Montresor, who does not let his attacker get away with the attack. Overall, Montresor’s craving for vengeance is derived from the pride he feels for his family.
Montresor satisfied these cravings by plotting and executing the perfect revenge. The reason Montresor killed Fortunato in the catacombs was because of his intense family pride. Because in Montresor’s mind Fortunato had insulted his family, he saw the catacombs as the perfect place to kill him so they could, in a sense, witness the event. That way his actions avenge them as well as himself. As to the reason for the method of live entrapment he used to kill Fortunato, it comes not from Montresor, but instead from the author himself. During the time Poe published this story, the fear of being buried alive was very real among the masses. In fact, some cemeteries would place bells on the limbs of the recently deceased, so if they were accidentally buried alive, they...