Study Guide

The Purloined Letter

by Edgar Allan Poe

The Purloined Letter Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Discussion

Dupin was one of literature’s first detectives, before the term detective came into common usage. Poe’s detective stories differ from many modern mysteries in that the story does not really invite the reader to try to solve the case alongside the literary sleuth. In "The Purloined Letter" Poe’s narrator recounts the story in a way which unfolds the mystery then elaborates the solution and the way it is reached. Dupin gives both the means by which he recovered the letter and the scientific reasons for his success where the police have failed. From earlier stories we know that Dupin is the son of a rich family who has fallen on hard times. His efforts to solve the case arise from twin motivations – the desire for the reward, and the scientific curiosity of solving the mystery. His actions are not those of a benevolent friend – when he does recover the letter he is in no hurry to return it the Prefect, waiting until he is sure there is some benefit for himself in doing so.