Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)
The Gold-Bug cover image

Many years before the story’s present, the unnamed narrator of “The Gold-Bug” made friends with William Legrand, a descendant of an old Huguenot family of New Orleans, who now lives in a hut on Sullivan’s Island, nine miles from Charleston, South Carolina. Once wealthy, Legrand lost his fortune and now lives a simple life with his Newfoundland dog and one servant, an old black man named Jupiter, a former slave. Well educated, misanthropic, subject to mood swings between enthusiasm and melancholy, Legrand spends his time fishing, exploring the island, and collecting shells and entomological specimens, of which he has many.

One unusually cold day in October, the narrator visits Legrand after an absence of several weeks. As the narrator warms himself by the fire, Legrand enthusiastically tells him about a strange bug he has found, one of a brilliant gold color with three black spots and long antennae. Because he has lent the bug to a soldier from nearby Fort Moultrie, Legrand cannot show the insect itself; instead, he draws a picture of it on a piece of paper he takes from his pocket. As the narrator holds the paper, the dog jumps on him, causing his hand to move close to the fire. When he looks at the drawing, he sees a representation of a skull rather than a bug. Legrand is visibly upset by his friend’s reaction, examines the drawing by candle, and then locks it in his desk, saying nothing more. The narrator thinks it prudent not to upset Legrand further and takes his leave.

About a month later, Jupiter delivers a note from Legrand to the narrator in Charleston begging him to come at once. The urgent tone of the note and Jupiter’s comments that Legrand is acting strangely and must be ill alarm the narrator. Jupiter insists that Legrand has been bitten by the gold bug. The narrator fears that his friend’s mind has become unhinged, especially when he sees the spades and scythe that Jupiter has been told to buy. On returning to Legrand, the narrator is even more fearful. Legrand says that the bug will make his fortune, as though the insect were real gold. He promises that the narrator will understand his excitement if the narrator will accompany him and Jupiter to the...

(The entire section is 902 words.)

Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

William Legrand has been reduced to poverty by a series of misfortunes. In order to avoid the embarrassment of meeting friends from his more prosperous days, he leaves New Orleans and goes to live on Sullivan’s Island, near Charleston, South Carolina. It is a small island, usually uninhabited except for Legrand and his black servant, Jupiter. Jupiter will not leave his master, even though he is a free man and could find work to support himself in comfort.

Winters on the island are mild and fires are usually unnecessary, but on a night in October when a friend from Charleston visits, he finds Legrand and Jupiter away from the house and a fire blazing in the fireplace. The two soon return from a quest for entomological specimens. Legrand is in rare good humor. He has stumbled upon an entirely new specimen, a bug of gold. On his way home, he meets Lieutenant G——, who takes the bug to examine it. Because the friend cannot examine it before morning, Legrand takes an old piece of parchment from his pocket and draws a picture of the specimen.

As the friend takes the drawing, Legrand’s dog enters, jumps upon the guest, and licks his face in joy. When the friend finally looks at the paper, he finds that the drawing resembles a human skull. Legrand, somewhat disgruntled at this slur on his drawing, takes the paper back and prepares to throw it into the fire. After one last glance, however, he pales visibly, rises, and seats himself at the table. Then he carefully places the paper in his wallet. As Legrand appears distracted and a little sulky, the friend cancels his plans for spending the night and returns to Charleston.

About a month later, the friend receives a visit from old Jupiter. The servant reports that his master is not well. Going around as if in a daze, Legrand works constantly at a cipher. Once he had eluded Jupiter and stayed away the whole day. Jupiter knows that the gold bug is to blame, for it bit Legrand on the day he captured it, and he knows that the bug is the reason for Legrand’s talk about gold in his sleep. He produces a letter from his master begging the friend to return to the island with Jupiter.

At the island, the friend finds Legrand in a state of great excitement. Filled with plans for an expedition to the mainland, he asks the friend to accompany him. After getting Legrand’s promise that he will consult a doctor before long,...

(The entire section is 981 words.)