Study Guide

The Purloined Letter

by Edgar Allan Poe

The Purloined Letter Characters

Characters

Minister D
Minister D— is a daring political opponent of the French Queen; he steals one of her letters and uses it to blackmail her so that he can achieve his political ends. Although the Queen knows he has stolen it, neither she nor the police Prefect, another one of her allies, can recover the letter openly, for fear of publicizing its contents.

The Minister knows this, and he also knows that the police will try to search his home whenever he is away. At one point, he purposefully leaves to let them do this, because he has hidden the letter in an ironically obvious hiding place, where he is certain the police will not look for it. Without the Minister's knowledge, Dupin, the hired detective, deduces that this is exactly what the Minister has done, and on a visit to see the Minister, Dupin notices the letter sitting in a letter rack. On a second visit, the Minister is distracted by a diversion that Dupin has set up, and Dupin secretly switches the purloined letter with a fake letter. Although the Minister's fate is never seen, Dupin tells the narrator that since the Minister does not know about the fake letter, he will try to use it as he has used the real one, and it will backfire in his face, leading to his political downfall.

C. Auguste Dupin
C. Auguste Dupin is the detective in the story, whom the Prefect has called upon in past Poe stories to solve mysteries. In ‘‘The Purloined Letter,’’ the Prefect visits Dupin to get help in finding a purloined—or stolen—letter.

With the help of prompting questions and statements, largely from the narrator—who is a friend of Dupin—the Prefect provides Dupin with the details of the case. The letter has been stolen from the Queen, in her presence, by the Minister D— , a known political opponent. However, due to the sensitive nature of the letter's contents, the Queen and her allies, including the Prefect, cannot seize the letter openly, and so have tried to search the Minister's home in private. Dupin asks questions about the Prefect's search methods to determine if the search has been handled correctly. Dupin says that the Minister has conducted a good search, yet he encourages the Prefect to make a thorough search of the premises. The Prefect is confused, but takes his advice. However, a month later, when the Prefect returns to Dupin's home, he has still found nothing. On this second visit, Dupin asks the Prefect about the reward for finding the letter, and the Prefect says that it is fifty thousand francs. Dupin has the Prefect make out the check, then produces the letter.

Later, Dupin explains to...

(The entire section is 1083 words.)