Montresor's Motive for Murder

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Understanding Montresor’s Motive for Murder
What would drive one to murder? Is there any case in which the act of taking another’s life is justified? These are some of the questions raised in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”. In this short story, the main character Montresor meticulously plans and executes a man named Fortunato for showing him insult. To go through such lengths as these, it is apparent that honor is a very important value of Montresor’s and to diminish it in any way would be liable to the most severe of punishments. Montresor’s value of honor remains true throughout the story, unaltered even after ending Fortunato’s life. It is this value that must be analyzed in order to understand the mindset of Montresor and to justify his actions. Montresor is driven to take the life of Fortunato by an obligatory sense of family devotion, revealing a similar justification for killing complimentary to a patriot fighting for their country.

The importance of family, to Montresor, is shown in one aspect by Poe’s enigmatic setting. A mystery commonly investigated by critics of Poe is why the setting of the story is never explicitly revealed to the reader. This mystery can be solved when one simply analyzes Montresor’s motivation for killing Fortunato. The setting is never revealed because its revelation would mislead readers from the much bigger riddle, which is why insult alone is enough to justify murder. Poe did not want the reader to delve any deeper into Montresor’s heritage because then the reader would know him as “Montresor of Italy” or “Montresor of France”. Poe wanted the reader to know Montresor as simply “Montresor”; nothing beyond that matters to Poe and nothing beyond that matters to Montresor.

This mindset of undying loyalty embedded into Montresor by his family is similar to the loyalty created in a soldier of the military. It does not matter who they were before they entered into the armed forces; all they are known as now is a soldier expected to do whatever is asked of them in the service of their nation. A soldier knows himself only as a sentinel showing allegiance to his country; the main character knows himself only as a Montresor, emphasizing the deep allegiance he has for his lineage.

The allegiance Montresor has for his family can be equated to the allegiance one has to their country. Although the setting is indeterminate, the time period of this story reflects a time before nationalism gained so much importance; a setting where aristocratic families were seen in a superior light. As a member of such a noble and powerful family, Montresor holds certain responsibilities and obligations one could relate to those of a patriot. Patriots justify killing in wars on behalf of their country and the principles that country believes in. In the same sense, Montresor justifies killing in defense of the principles that his family instilled in him. These principles are revealed on Montresor’s family coat of arms.

Nowadays, a family coat of arms and motto are seen as little more than decoration and are not taken too seriously. For Montresor, however, his family coat of arms held such power over him that he would be imposed with the most serious and demanding of obligations. The coat of arms is described in detail: “A huge human foot d’or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are embedded in the heel” (818). In the hopes of finding the purpose of this description, one must analyze the image itself. It appears that a snake is being crushed by a giant foot as it is biting the heel. This picture clearly illustrates what anyone who wrongs the Montresors should expect. The snake bit the proud heel of the family and so the family retaliated by crushing the snake. Being that this was the picture chosen to be made into Montresor’s coat of arms, it can be assumed that respect must be an ideal of great pride to his family. So much pride of this ideology is depicted in the coat...
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