Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 418

Legrand, the hero, is similar to other Poe characters; he is well educated, possessed of excellent reasoning powers, somewhat reclusive, formerly wealthy, and known for his mental instability. Like Dupin, the hero of Poe’s later detective stories, Legrand’s actions puzzle other characters, especially the narrator friend, with whom the reader tends to identify. Combining two such characters with a puzzling situation became a formula for Poe in creating suspenseful stories.

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The structuring of “The Gold-Bug” in two parts is also typical of Poe. Suspense builds in the first part because neither the narrator nor the reader understands Legrand’s actions. The quotation used as a head note implies that Legrand may indeed be mad. When his actions lead to the discovery of the treasure, one mystery is solved. A major question remains: How did Legrand know where to look? In the second half of the story, Legrand explains the reasoning that led to such success. Again, suspense builds as he gives his detailed explanation, which by the end of the story ties up all loose ends. Regardless of whether he guesses the answers, the reader is treated to mystery and suspense in a well-wrought tale in which the hero accomplishes his goal.

In addition to suspense, “The Gold-Bug” includes a touch of humor, principally achieved by the incongruity between the elevated language (used by many Poe characters) of Legrand and the narrator and the dialect of Jupiter. Blacks in Poe’s tales are often comic stereotypes; their powers of understanding and intellect are limited, and their language contrasts sharply with that of other characters. In Jupiter’s case, Poe gives him the black dialect of Virginia rather than that of South Carolina, no doubt because Poe was more familiar with Virginia blacks.

“The Gold-Bug” immediately became popular after winning the Dollar Newspaper story contest (and a prize of one hundred dollars) in 1843; it has also inspired much critical comment. It has been praised for its original plot and for the realism of the description of Sullivan’s Island. The story is one of a relatively small number in which Poe used a real place as a setting. In many incidental details, it reflects Poe’s experiences during his tour of army duty at Fort Moultrie, between 1827 and 1828.

Whatever the source of the popularity of “The Gold-Bug,” it remains one of Poe’s best-known stories. It appeals to readers who love a mystery, a cryptograph, and sustained suspense, and who enjoy a happy ending with well-deserved rewards.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 373

*Sullivan’s Island

*Sullivan’s Island. Barrier island off the coast of South Carolina, near Charleston. During the early nineteenth century, the sea islands near Charleston were barren, isolated locations, accessible only by water and inhabited by relatively few people. Sullivan’s Island, at the mouth of Charleston harbor, was notable mainly for Fort Moultrie, which guarded the entrance to the port. Edgar Allan Poe was quite familiar with Sullivan’s Island, since he had been stationed at Fort Moultrie during his brief service in the U.S. Army and selected the island as the suitable location for a story about the discovery of treasure buried by pirate captain William Kidd.

Despite its proximity to Charleston, Sullivan’s Island’s distinguishing characteristic was its isolation. Aside from the garrison of the fort and a few summer residents, there were only a few year-round inhabitants of the place. Densely covered with myrtle trees, the narrow, sandy island becomes home to the once-wealthy William Legrand, who has left New Orleans because of some misfortunes. Legrand lives with his single slave, Jupiter, in a small hut located...

(The entire section contains 1033 words.)

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Critical Essays