The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitively settled — but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. 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.

Poe creates a chilling portrait of Montresor in this opening paragraph to The Cask of Amontillado. By explaining in the first sentence that Montresor is out for revenge, the reader is told that the narrator has a one track mind. What is even more frightening, is that an insult is what finally drives him to murder. Fortunato has committed a “thousand injuries,” implying that he has done much to Montresor’s chagrin. What those injuries could be is left a mystery, but it is believable that they are worse than a simple insult hurled in the narrator’s direction. So Montresor’s insanity is increased when the cause of Fortunato’s ruin is some disparaging words. However, it is key to note what importance is placed on words here. The severity of the narrator’s reaction shows just how powerful words can be.

Repetition is also something that stands out about this selection. Poe uses words or variations of words over and over, signifying the fact that Montresor only thinks on one thing. Revenge is what he craves, and by forcing the reader to see the same words over and over again, the author has put the reader into a similar confused and frenzied state. And even though this frenzied state takes the forefront in the mind of the reader, it is also very precise, and in the mind of Montresor at least, logical. He has set up his priorities, and carefully thought out how to achieve his goal without compromise.

Montresor is a narrator without distraction. He knows what he has done, and is able to carefully retrace every action that leads to the death of his friend turned enemy, Fortunato. It is due to the careful word choice and syntax of Poe that the reader can feel the very same crazy-yet-calm frenzy that Montresor experiences throughout his deed and telling of the story.

One Response to “Annotated Paragraph”

  1.   Kevin L. Ferguson said:

    You mention “thousand injuries” in your analysis, but I was wondering why that wasn’t “hovered”–I think it’s a good observation that we don’t get the specifics of each injury, but what is emphasized is the “thousand,” like these happen all the time. I bet the New Critic would connect that idea to the idea you discuss about repetition: maybe the problem Poe is writing about is a problem of the narrator “repeating” too much–the quantity is more important than the quality? is this why the character is “frenzied”?

    Another question the New Critic would ask is how we could resolve the apparent contradiction between a logical mind and a frenzied one: the crazy-yet-calm. You discuss that a little (and seem to suggest it’s the primary contradiction), but I wonder if there aren’t other places to more fully develop that contradiction? For example, you say “Montresor is out for revenge,” but Poe writes “I vowed revenge.” Do you think the word “vow” has a special meaning that might help us understand this passage (compared to the other paradigmatic choices like “promised” “decided upon,” etc.)?

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