Pride is known as man’s greatest sin since it was pride that led to Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden. It is also the sin of Montresor and Fortunato in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Cask of Amontillado.” Montresor has been insulted by Fortunato, and his pride leads him to seek revenge. He cleverly plays upon Fortunato’s pride and leads him to his death with the promise of tasting a nonexistent cask of Amontillado, which is known to be a very expensive fine Italian wine. Through these characters and their actions, Poe communicates his theme that pride leads to a man’s downfall. The power of pride is clearly seen in the characters of Montresor and Fortunato.
Montresor’s pride in his family name is so great that “When [Fortunato] ventured upon insult, [Montresor] vowed revenge” (Poe 296). He cannot let himself be put down because he would appear to be weak and inferior, so he plans his revenge carefully. His desire to punish Fortunato is related to his family motto, “’Nemo me impune lacessit,’” (Poe 300) which means “No one dare attack me with impunity”. Obviously his ancestors felt that they were above reproach, and their pride made them feel that any attack should be met with even greater force. That is why Montresor cannot turn the other cheek; he feels it is his duty to crush any “serpent” (Poe 299) who would dare to attack his honorable name.
This belief leads him to his moral downfall as he plans and executes the murder of Fortunato. Fortunato's pride leads him into the trap that Montresor so cleverly lays for him. Montresor knows that Fortunato has “a weak point... He prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine” (Poe 296). Interestingly, Montresor sees Fortunato’s pride as a weakness (he sees his own as a strength), and like the clever man he is, Montresor preys upon this point, creating a nonexistent cask of Amontillado that he knows Fortunato will do anything to taste.
To ensure that, Montresor goes even one step further and teases Fortunato’s pride by saying that he plans to have Luchesi taste the wine because “if anyone has a critical turn, it is he” (Poe 297). Fortunato’s pride cannot accept that anyone is better at wine tasting than he is, so he insults both Montresor and Luchesi by saying, “You have been imposed upon; and as for Luchesi, he cannot distinguish Sherry from Amontillado” (Poe 297). So great is Fortunato’s pride that he does not see the effect his insults have upon Montresor; he believes that he can say and do anything because of his superior skills. Little does he know that his pride is leading him into Montresor’s trap.
Montresor continues to play with Fortunato’s intense pride as he leads him to his death. Several times Montresor offers to turn back with Fortunato because of his cough and the dampness of the catacombs but Fortunato insists, “’Let us go on’” (Poe 300). He cannot admit to any physical weakness that would interfere with his ability to taste-test the Amontillado.