Many years before the story’s present, the unnamed narrator of “The Gold-Bug” made friends with William Legrand, a descendant of an old Huguenot family of New Orleans, who now lives in a hut on Sullivan’s Island, nine miles from Charleston, South Carolina. Once wealthy, Legrand lost his fortune and now lives a simple life with his Newfoundland dog and one servant, an old black man named Jupiter, a former slave. Well educated, misanthropic, subject to mood swings between enthusiasm and melancholy, Legrand spends his time fishing, exploring the island, and collecting shells and entomological specimens, of which he has many.
One unusually cold day in October, the narrator visits Legrand after an absence of several weeks. As the narrator warms himself by the fire, Legrand enthusiastically tells him about a strange bug he has found, one of a brilliant gold color with three black spots and long antennae. Because he has lent the bug to a soldier from nearby Fort Moultrie, Legrand cannot show the insect itself; instead, he draws a picture of it on a piece of paper he takes from his pocket. As the narrator holds the paper, the dog jumps on him, causing his hand to move close to the fire. When he looks at the drawing, he sees a representation of a skull rather than a bug. Legrand is visibly upset by his friend’s reaction, examines the drawing by candle, and then locks it in his desk, saying nothing more. The narrator thinks it prudent not to upset Legrand further and takes his leave.
About a month later, Jupiter delivers a note from Legrand to the narrator in Charleston begging him to come at once. The urgent tone of the note and Jupiter’s comments that Legrand is acting strangely and must be ill alarm the narrator. Jupiter insists that Legrand has been bitten by the gold bug. The narrator fears that his friend’s mind has become unhinged, especially when he sees the spades and scythe that Jupiter has been told to buy. On returning to Legrand, the narrator is even more fearful. Legrand says that the bug will make his fortune, as though the insect were real gold. He promises that the narrator will understand his excitement if the narrator will accompany him and Jupiter to the...
(The entire section is 902 words.)