"The Gold Bug" first appeared in two installments of the (Philadelphia) Dollar Newspaper in June of 1843. Poe won a $100 prize for his submission of the story to a contest held by that periodical's editors. It quickly became the most popular of his works, surpassed only by "The Raven" as a commercial success.
The story is told by an unnamed narrator, a physician on whose word we can presumably rely. It concerns an extraordinary treasure hunt, conducted by its main character, William Legrand, that took place many years before the present time of the narration. Legrand, we are told, was a descendant of an old Huguenot family from New Orleans. Like Poe himself, Legrand was well-educated, but having experienced some unspecified reversal in his financial fortunes, he was, at the story's start, a poor man. He was also something of a misanthrope, living in voluntary seclusion in a small hut that he built on Sullivan's Island a short distance from the Atlantic Coast city of Charleston, South Carolina, with his servant, the freed slave Jupiter, and a Newfoundland dog. We are told in advance that Legrand was given to sudden mood swings, alternating between enthusiasm and melancholy.
Legrand was visited at his abode by the narrator on an unusually cold day in October, and the narrator was at first pleased to find his host in an elevated mood. Legrand was excited by his recent discovery of a rare "gold bug" (a "scarabaeus or beetle), that had distinctive markings on its shell. He could not produce the specimen at the time, however, because he had lent it to a lieutenant at nearby Fort Moultrie. Legrand said that he could draw a picture of the insect for the narrator, but finding no paper in the drawer of his writing desk he took a scrap of what turns out to be parchment from his pocket. Legrand completed his sketch and handed it to the narrator, but as the guest held the parchment in his hand, Legrand's dog entered the room, jumped on the narrator, and the paper came close to a fire that had been lit to warm the hut on this unseasonably cold afternoon. What the narrator saw was not the outline of an insect, but the image of a death's head or human skull. Legrand was disconcerted by this turn of events. But as he was about to throw drawing in fire, Legrand noticed something. He locked the drawing in his desk drawer without further comment. The prudent narrator sensed that his presence had disturbed Legrand and left.
About a month later, the narrator was visited in his Charleston offices by the ex-slave Jupiter. He bore a written message from his master which asked the narrator to come at once to Sullivan's Island. Legrand gave no reason for the request beyond indicating that business of the "highest importance" was at hand. For his part, Jupiter was convinced that Legrand had gone mad, ascribing this dementia to Legrand's having been bitten by "de goole bug" when they first found it. The narrator agreed to go to the island, but when he saw a scythe and some shovels in Legrand's skiff, he became alarmed; he nevertheless went to Sullivan's Island to prevent this madman from doing harm to himself or others. Arriving at Legrand's humble abode, the narrator found his friend in an excited state of mind. Legrand proclaimed that the gold bug would make his fortune and then asked the narrator to accompany him and Jupiter on a nocturnal expedition to the mainland. By this juncture, the narrator was sure that Legrand has indeed gone insane. When he asked about the purpose of their excursion, Legrand's reply was merely "'we shall see.'"
The three-man party proceeded in the skiff to the nearby mainland. With Legrand swinging the dead gold bug on a string attached to a stick, they used the scythe to cut through dense vegetation and finally arrived at a tall tulip tree. Legrand ordered Jupiter to climb the tree up to a certain branch, taking the gold bug with him. On the seventh branch up,...
(The entire section is 1599 words.)