In structure, this is among Poe's tightest tales. Montresor is as mad as any of Poe's narrators, but Poe omits the usual passage revealing that men have called him mad or that he comes from a long line of monomaniacs. The plot itself tells us.
Like many of Poe's inspired madmen, however, Montresor is akin to Poe creative characters. Ellison created the landscape garden; Dupin solved cases by exposing baroque patterns of criminality and violence; even mad Usher painted impressively and improvised music. Montresor "creates" a horrible crime which will, paradoxically, take the adjectives Poe uses to describe the beautiful effect--strange, grotesque, outré, bizarre, complex. But there are none of the usual expository passages to explain why the narrator is mad or how he reached the state which enabled him to create the "beautiful" pattern; compare this to "Hop-Frog," a tale of vengeance which does explain these things. (Mabbott [9, III] and A. H. Quinn point out that at the time Poe wrote the tale, he was involved in an extremely bitter dispute; he certainly had "revenge" in his mind.)
Note also that our willingness to believe in this insane vengeance depends in large part on our antiaristocratic prejudices. Poe's tale is related to innumerable articles in American magazines of the period about the scandalous goings-on of continental nobility.
A note of explanation : Because Poe almost certainly knew the Montresor family motto from childhood, and since that motto connects to the Masonic organizations which were so important in the Revolutionary era in which Poe grandparents distinguished themselves, it is likely that a good deal of the texture of this tale grows from very personal associations. See notes 2 and 8, and Levine (8) in the Bibliography.
|Godey's Lady's Book, November 1846|