orangutan holding a shaving razor

The Murders in the Rue Morgue

by Edgar Allan Poe

Start Free Trial

Why did Poe introduce the possibility that Madame L'Espanaye was a fortune teller?

Quick answer:

The mysterious murders of the two women are a red herring. The question that Poe raises is, why did these two women become the victims of an animal that had escaped from its cage? This is a question that Poe never answers. He only shows how difficult it is to solve. Dupin's final solution turns out to be entirely wrong. It turns out that the killings were random and unmotivated by any human motive or reason.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Poe quotes a number of witnesses and excerpts from different newspaper articles. All of them are intended to show very little except that the two murdered women lived alone and kept to themselves. Nobody knew much about them because they were so reclusive. One witness, Pierre Moreau, a tobacconist, gave the following information:

Witness had seen the daughter some five or six times during the six years. The two lived an exceedingly retired life—were reputed to have money. Had heard it said among the neighbors that Madame L. told fortunes—did not believe it.

This eliminates the possibility that there could be a large number of suspects. It is significant that Moreau sells tobacco, which suggests that he would have had no dealings with either woman. The witnesses all contradict one another. Nobody really knows much about either woman. Suspicion falls on Adolphe Le Bon because he had dealings with both murdered women and had had recent access to their home.

Adolphe Le Bon, clerk to Mignaud et Fils, deposes that on the day in question, about noon, he accompanied Madame L'Espanaye to her residence with the 4000 francs, put up in two bags. Upon the door being opened, Mademoiselle L. appeared and took from his hands one of the bags, while the old lady relieved him of the other. 

Poe's intention in introducing the possibility that Madame L'Espanaye was a fortune teller was only to show how little was known about her. The rumor that this old woman told fortunes was evidently started by an ignorant laundress named Pauline Dubourg. She only saw the two women when she called for their clothes and returned them laundered. Her testimony is worthless, but she is the one who has probably spread that false rumor in the neighborhood. Pierre Moreau the tobacconist has heard the rumor but does not believe it. Madame L'Espanaye is rich. She has no need to earn money telling fortunes, and it would be impossible for her to have many customers if she is such a recluse. No doubt the laundress saw Madame L'Espanaye playing solitaire and formed the impression that the old woman was "reading the cards." The women were alone in a room with the doors and windows locked. There were no servants or visitors who could have had access. The idea that Madame L'Espanaye was a fortune teller is a red herring, the wild misapprehension of an ignorant laundress.

All of the available information about the two murdered women is contradictory. The case arouses Dupin's curiosity just because it seems so difficult to solve. He tells his friend the narrator:

“As for these murders, let us enter into some examinations for ourselves, before we make up an opinion respecting them. An inquiry will afford us amusement,” (I thought this an odd term, so applied, but said nothing) “and, besides, Le Bon once rendered me a service for which I am not ungrateful. We will go and see the premises with our own eyes. I know G—, the Prefect of Police, and shall have no difficulty in obtaining the necessary permission.”

When Dupin finally solves the case, it turns out that the two women were victims of a totally unmotivated, random intrusion by a wild Ourang-Outang.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial