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Posted by on Apr 19, 2013 in Thoughts on Writing | 4 comments

O is for Omigod Why Did You Kill Fortunato?

Student Project: FF ImperialAdmittedly, I’m totally cheating today because this post wouldn’t have anything to do with the letter O if I hadn’t dug deep and gone to the valley girl place with the title. I actually did have something that would’ve fit perfectly, a Latin quote, but…whatever.

I wanted an excuse to talk about Edgar Allan Poe because I’ve gotten halfway through the A-Z Challenge and haven’t mentioned him yet.

As some of you may know, I’m a huge fan of The Cask of Amontillado. It’s probably a neck and neck tie with The Raven for my favorite Poe work. But one thing has never made a whole lot of sense to me:

Why did Fortunato have to die?

A tale of revenge?

As the story opens, we’re treated to these words:

“The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.”

You know what? That’s a GREAT opening line. That tells me from the start that this is a tale of revenge and I happen to be down with revenge, so I’m good with that. What bothers me is that we never find out why.

But let me back up.

Since I know not everyone is as enamored with the works of Poe as I am, this story is the one where the main character chains a man to a wall in his wine cellar/crypt and walls him in, never to be seen or heard from again. How does he get the hapless Fortunato to follow him to these depths? He waits until Fortunato is already drunk from carnival celebrations and tempts him with something he can’t resist.

A cask of amontillado.

So, as far as revenge goes…this is a rather brilliant scheme, in idea and in execution. Unfortunately, the main character never bothered to tell us what these injuries and insults were.

Don’t get me wrong. We get enough of their interaction on the way down to the supposed amontillado that we can see Fortunato would probably get on anyone’s nerves. He’s crude and he talks a lot, whereas the narrator seems more proper in tone. It’s not hard to imagine why this guy might not want to be his best pal.

But bricking him into the wall and letting him slowly starve to death or die from the damp air when Fortunato seems to already be somewhat ill? Well, I might’ve liked some explanation of what he actually did. I’m a big fan of when the punishment fits the crime, yet I have no idea if this was justice at its finest or if it’s just the psychosis of a narcissist at play.

Perfect murder problems

Ultimately, the worst problem with planning and executing the perfect murder is that no one will ever know of your evil genius. And we do know this was the perfect murder because we’re told at the end that no one disturbs Fortunato’s resting place for 50 years. So, it’s obvious why he wants to brag about this murder, but it’s never made apparent in the story who he’s talking to.

Right after the opening line, we do get this clue:

“You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat.”

The utterance bit is really secondary. Based on the fact that he’s telling this revenge story to someone who knows his soul well makes think this is a deathbed confession. No, I don’t think he’s particularly concerned about unburdening his soul. I think this is just the first time he’s had the opportunity to tell anyone without fear of being arrested. I mean, they could certainly arrest him and make him spend his final hours in jail, I suppose, but I would think clergy wouldn’t actually be allowed to share information gained during a confession. (I’m not Catholic, so I’m totally guessing about that.)

All right, I’m tired of listening to myself muse. Your turn. Does it bother you at all when you never get to motive behind a kill in a book? What’s your theory on who he’s telling the story to?

Next up: P is for Paranormal

© 2013 – 2015, Sydney Katt. All rights reserved.

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  1. You shouldn’t have to have an excuse to talk about Poe. Well done. I do need good motive. They use this talking to the general audience technique making us wonder long after who the devil they are actually talking to.

    • I completely agree. I’m lucky that my friends and family have grown accustomed to me working Poe into random unrelated conversations.

  2. Poe, along with Shakespere, is my favorite writer, and one of the reasons is what he leaves to the reader’s imagination. The specific reason for killing Fortunado is irrelevant. It would have weakened the story to give that detail. Suppose Poe tried to specify the “Dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”?
    I enjoy stories of revenge, because in all life, there’s nothing more viscerally satisfying, more spiritually uplifting, than to get back tenfold with some son of a bitch that’s done you dirty.
    John LaCarna

    • No, the story didn’t need to tell us why, but it would’ve added a layer of character development if we knew whether Fortunato actually did something terrible to him or if he just smiled at him funny one day and dude started planning an elaborate murder as a result.

      Still my favorite story either way.

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