Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Experimenting with many different fictional forms, such as the gothic tale, science fiction, occult fantasies, and satire, Poe gained great recognition in the early 1840’s for his creation of a genre that has grown in popularity ever since: the so-called tale of ratiocination, or detective story, which features an amateur sleuth who, by superior deductive abilities, outsmarts criminals and outclasses the police. Such stories as “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Mystery of Marie Roget” created a small sensation in the United States when they were first published. “The Purloined Letter,” the third and final story in the Dupin series, has been the subject of much critical analysis as a model of ironic and tightly structured plot.
“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is the most popular of the three because it combines horrifying, inexplicable events with astonishing feats of deductive reasoning. The narrator, the forerunner of Dr. Watson of the Sherlock Holmes stories, meets Auguste Dupin in this story and very early recognizes that he has a double personality, a bi-part soul, for he is both wildly imaginative and coldly analytical. The reader’s first encounter with Dupin’s deductive ability takes place when Dupin seems to read his companion’s mind, responding to something that the narrator has only been thinking. Dupin, as he explains the elaborate method whereby he followed the narrator’s thought processes by noticing small...
(The entire section is 441 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
This tale of ratiocination opens with a long discussion of the differences between the truly analytical mind and the mind that is possessed of great powers of calculation. What this long expository section sets up is the notion that persons possessed of this keen analytical faculty are different from other human beings. The story is narrated from the first-person point of view by a nameless young man who is residing in Paris during the spring and summer of an unnamed year sometime during the 1830’s. He has come to Paris, it is implied, to make some discoveries about the world and about himself. During the course of his visit, he encounters in a bookshop Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin. About Dupin very little information is provided; the reader is given to understand, however, that Dupin is an individual who has fallen on hard times and who chooses to live a more or less shadowy existence. The narrator, fascinated by the general character and demeanor of Dupin, proposes that they spend much of their time together, and, because he has some financial independence, he and Dupin rent apartments together in an old deserted mansion in the Fauborg St. Germain section of Paris.
Together, the two of them develop a lifestyle that involves remaining indoors shuttered away from society during the day and venturing out to stroll the streets and boulevards of Paris only after dark. In the course of these nocturnal wanderings, the narrator describes a situation in which, while the two of them are walking along, each apparently alone in his thoughts, Dupin speaks aloud to the narrator a sentence that could only have been a response to something the narrator was thinking. Amazed at this apparent intrusion on his mind, the narrator asks for an explanation. Dupin then offers a step-by-step recounting of how he came to deduce what it was that the narrator was thinking about as the two of them walked along.
Having thus established the mysterious yet brilliantly analytical powers of Dupin, the narrator then moves on to describe the discovery not long afterward of an item in one of the local newspapers detailing grisly murders occurring on the fourth floor of a house in the Rue Morgue. Persons in the neighborhood heard screams issuing from the house, mounted the stairs, and attempted to enter...
(The entire section is 935 words.)
Edgar Allan Poe's “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is prefaced by a brief quotation, from the seventeenth-century writer Sir Thomas Browne, dealing with the legends of the Sirens and of Achilles and also with matters of interpretation. This is followed by a lengthy meditation on the analytical features of the human mind. This meditation comments on the pleasures of analytical thinking and on the ways mathematical thought may invigorate such thinking. The narrator then compares and contrasts two games (chess and card-playing) at length, suggesting that card-playing involves a great deal more genuine analytical thinking than chess. In particular, an effective card-player must be a good observer of his opponents. Finally, he explains, true analysis is not mere ingenuity. The narrator then introduces a story which, he says, will be almost a commentary on the claims he has just made.
The narrator reports that he lived in Paris for several months in a year during the 1800s—a year he does not precisely specify. During his time there he met a young man named C. Auguste Dupin, who came from a good family but who, from various causes, was not wealthy. Dupin loved books, and he and the narrator met in a Parisian bookshop and began to develop a close friendship. Eventually they decided to room together in a somewhat dilapidated house. They lived there in great privacy.
Dupin loved to walk at night, and the narrator often accompanied him. During these walks, the narrator began to notice and admire the analytical nature of Dupin’s mind. Dupin enjoyed this analytical ability and also enjoyed displaying it. Dupin boasted that he could see into the minds and hearts of most other people. The narrator felt that Dupin possessed a mind that was either excited or perhaps diseased. One night, while the two walked silently through the streets of Paris and after they had not spoken for fifteen minutes, Dupin surprised the narrator by suddenly telling him exactly what the narrator had just been thinking. The narrator was astonished by this feat. He was even more astonished when Dupin patiently explained precisely how, by using analytical reasoning, he had painstakingly come to such a startlingly precise conclusion.
One evening, as Dupin and the narrator were perusing a newspaper, they came across an extremely detailed account of shocking murders that had recently occurred in a house on a street called the Rue Morgue. The murders had been preceded by loud shrieking. A crowd, accompanied by police, had broken through the gate of the house from which the shrieking had come, only to discover the dead bodies of a woman named Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter, Mademoiselle Camille L’Espanaye. However, before the crowd was able to get into the room where the murders had occurred, they heard two voices apparently arguing. Unfortunately, by the time the crowd entered the women’s rooms, the voices had fallen silent. Inside the apartment, they discovered a chaotic scene. Furniture had been moved; a bloody razor lay on a chair; bloody gray human hair was visible, apparently ripped from someone’s head; valuables were scattered on the floor; and a small safe was found unlocked and open.
The older woman was nowhere to be seen, but the body of her daughter was discovered shoved far up into the chimney, with her head pointed downward. The corpse was badly bruised and scratched, and the marks of fingers on her neck indicated that the daughter had died from strangulation. Meanwhile, the corpse of the old lady was found in the small back yard. When her body was lifted, her head fell off, and indeed both the head and the body had been horribly mutilated. The newspaper report ended by announcing that the murders remained a complete mystery.
The next day, the newspaper reported a mass of new evidence, mainly resulting from the examination of neighbors and of numerous people who had been involved in the discovery of the crime and the bodies. Pauline Dubourg, a laundress, said that the two women seemed to live alone and to be on good terms with one another. She was sure they employed no servant, and she had heard that the old woman was a fortune teller who had saved some money. Pierre Moreau, a tobacconist, testified that the two women kept to themselves; he did not believe the claims that she told fortunes, although he did believe that she was somewhat wealthy. He had seen a doctor come to the apartment fairly often. Other neighbors confirmed these basic reports.
Isidore Muset, a policeman, testified that he had arrived at the gates of the apartment at about 3 a.m. and found many people already there. He had heard loud shrieking until he was able to force the gate open, then, as he had approached the apartment, he had heard two voices loudly arguing. One was a gruff voice; the other was an odd, shrill voice. The gruff voice had belonged to a Frenchman; the shrill voice could have belonged either to a man or a woman but seemed to be speaking in Spanish. Henri Duval, another neighbor, testified that he believed that the shrill voice had spokes Italian, and he agreed that it could have been the voice of either a man or a woman. Although Duval did not know Italian, he believed that the intonation of the shrill voice had sounded Italian. He was confident that the shrill voice had belonged to neither of the women, with whom he had often talked.
A Dutch restaurant owner agreed with the previous reports but was positive that the shrill voice (which he considered harsh rather than shrill) had belonged to a Frenchman. The gruff voice had continually said “sacre” and “diable” and had even once said “mon Dieu.” A banker and his assistant reported that three days before her death the old lady had withdrawn 4,000 francs from her account and that the money had been delivered to the apartment. An English tailor testified that he had heard the arguing; that the gruff voice had spoken French; that the shrill voice had been louder than the gruff voice; and that the shrill voice had not spoken English but had seemed to speak German (a language the tailor did not comprehend).
(The entire section is 2504 words.)