I thought things were going well with my roommate until he put a knife to my throat.
That was two years ago. I felt like a fool back then, in that moment; when my then-best friend and roommate held a knife to my throat and shrieked, “Why do I let you speak. Why?”
I won’t get into the details of what happened. He’s long since been expelled from this school and my life, but looking back I can still see the signs. The things I did that may have pissed him off and led him to that point. Before that, I had always felt….how do I put this…fortunate to have a friend like him. I won’t get into the details about why he put that knife to my throat, but looking back, I as I’ve said, in hindsight, I can see the signs signs leading up to the incident. The things I said, and how that fueled his downward spiral. It all seems so obvious in retrospect.
It’s a good thing he didn’t want to show me his Amontillado. I understand this now: I was Fortunato, and he was Montressor. We were in a real life version of The Cask of Amontillado.
We never know why Montressor, from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado wants to kill his self-proclaimed friend, outside of what he, the unreliable narrator, says are a collection of perceived slights (personally I assume it’s because of his wildly ironic name). What could he have done to warrant a death that horrific from someone you deem your friend? What did he do?
The answer, of course, depends on who you ask. Maybe there is no answer. Not definitive ones, at least. Montressor is an unreliable narrator, so you can’t trust him, which leaves you to come up with your own conclusions.
And that’s where the terror is. By the end of the story, you’re put exactly in Fortunato’s shoes (fetters?). Fortunato doesn’t know what he’s done wrong. The terror’s in what isn’t said. He travels down underground into a proverbial Hell getting progressively drunker along the way, thinking he was having fun with his friend.
As you, the reader, go along for the unfortunate duo’s ride, you become lost in Poe’s prose, his intensely gothic tone, and Montressor’s repeated reminders to himself to remember what he’s there for.
But you never know why he does it. By the end, when you realize Fortunato’s dead, you’re just as much of a fool as he was. Because neither of you knew why Montressor would do something like that. How could Fortunato’s slights could go unnoticed for so long? Surely Fortunato would have mentioned them when he realized the fate his friend had condemned him to. Why did the slights not ruin their friendship before he was killed? The whole thing boggles the mind.
Again, the terror lies in what you don’t know. The lack of information outside of what is happening in that moment of the story puts your firmly in the bells-and-motley of Fortunato. The fact that we must put the pieces together and in the end still have no definitive answer as to the why of the act is a testament to Poe’s mastery of his craft.
There are even layers of irony. Fortunato has an ironic name, as mentioned; he’s dressed up as a fool, he’s a drunk, and you don’t know much about him aside from he’s a connoisseur and has apparently slighted Montressor.
Then there’s the fact that you’re in Montressor’s head throughout the story, but you never learn too much of his motives beyond, “He’s insane.” The injustice of Fortunato’s death only twists the knife.
I’m glad my then-roommate and then-friend didn’t do exactly that. If he had, I wouldn’t be here, writing this deliciously ironic analysis for all of you. I was Fortunato, in the end. And so are you. Since Montressor has no defined motive, you are free to imagine Montressor as anybody.
Which begs the question, if we are Fortunato, then who in our lives is Montressor? I know who mine was.