What is the plot of "The Purloined Letter" in the form of a plot diagram?

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I can give you a general idea of what the plot diagram would look like. If you need more specific details, use the story to fill them in. eNotes also provides a thorough summary of the story. The format I used for this follows the "classic" literary plot diagram.

The "introduction" or "exposition:"

  • This would include the introduction of discussion between Dupin, the unnamed narrator, and the Prefect of Parisian police.
  • The introduction would probably also describe the main conflict of the story: that a letter has been stolen from the French Queen by a political opponent, Minister D—.

The rising action of the story:

  • The Queen cannot formally accuse the thief as the letter contains private information.
  • The Queen is being blackmailed.
  • The police have tried several times to retrieve the letter.
  • They have searched the minister's house.
  • They have pretended to mug him twice, thinking he carried the letter.
  • The Prefect thinks the minister is a poet, and therefore, a fool.
  • A large reward has been offered for retrieval of the letter.
  • The letter must always be close to the minister so he can use it any time.
  • Dupin tells the Prefect to thoroughly search the man's apartment again.
  • The Prefect returns one month later, with no success.
  • He advises Dupin that the reward has been doubled, and the Prefect will split it with anyone who can assist him.


  • Dupin tells the Prefect to write him a check on the spot, and gives the astounded Prefect the stolen letter.

Falling action:

  • The Prefect rushes out.
  • Dupin explains what he did to get the letter.
  • He realized the police searched places where they would have hidden the letter.
  • Dupin refers to a fable about a boy who was able to beat his opponents in guessing games by studying their behavior.
  • Dupin explains that the Prefect's presumption that because the minister was a poet, that he was also a fool was a flawed conclusion: the minister is smart.
  • Dupin mentions that the best way to hide something is to place it in plain sight.
  • Dupin visits the minister wearing sunglasses to hide the movement of his eyes from the minister as he looks around the room.
  • Dupin leaves his snuff box behind so he can retrieve it the next day.
  • Dupin returns the next day to get it.
  • Dupin arranges the distraction of a gun going off in the street—and to occupy the minister's attention.
  • Dupin takes the "purloined" letter and leaves a substitute.
  • He explains he didn't take the letter and run because he thought the minister might catch him and have him killed.

Resolution (Denouement)

  • As a supporter of the Queen, Dupin wants to help her; he also wants to witness what happens when the minister tries to blackmail the Queen again: he will be exposed.
  • Dupin also alludes to a personal vendetta toward the minister for some unnamed "offense" committed against Dupin years before.
  • In the replacement letter Dupin left, therein lies a clue for the minister in the form of Dupin insignia.


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The Purloined Letter

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