The key effect in Poe’s “The Purloined Letter” is ratiocination, or reasoning. In fact, on July 2, 1844, Poe wrote to the poet James Russell Lowell and said that “The Purloined Letter” was “perhaps, the best of my tales of ratiocination.”
In order to examine how ratiocination is working, let’s quickly review the story. The story is divided into two sections. In the first part, the Prefect of the Paris Police visits Dupin, a character who appears in several other Poe stories, because he has a problem. A stolen letter is being used to blackmail a female aristocrat. The Prefect knows who has stolen the letter, but he can’t find the letter. After listening to the Prefect detail his search for the letter, Dupin’s advice is to search again.
A month passes and the Prefect returns, unsuccessful. Now he is willing to give fifty thousand francs to the person who can find the letter. Dupin immediately asks for the check and, once receiving it, produces the letter.
The second part...
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