The Murders in the Rue Morgue

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The first of three of Poe’s tales involving Dupin, “THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE” is set in Paris, primarily on the fictional Rue Morgue. Poe begins the story with some observations on logical analysis by analogy to games such as chess and checkers; he continues the theme by having Dupin display his thought processes, which have the “air of intuition,” as he appears to read the narrator’s mind while they talk. This long introductory passage with its numerous allusions and obscure references prepares readers for Dupin’s solution to the murders which confound the Parisian gendarmes.

Dupin and the narrator first learn from an evening newspaper of the atrocity, the murders of Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter Camille. Newspaper accounts the next day carry depositions by acquaintances of the victims and people in the vicinity where the crime took place; these conflicting accounts and the absence of evidence lead the narrator and the police to consider the crime insolvable.

Dupin, however, places a cryptic advertisement in a newspaper after having inspected the house where the woman and her daughter died. When a sailor in search of a missing orangutan responds to the newspaper advertisement, Dupin has his solution to the murders. Then, for the benefit of the perplexed narrator, the police, and the reader, he explains the clues that led him to the solution.

Dupin’s analytic method of solving the crime has made the tale a classic in the detective-mystery genre. As the first detective in fiction, Dupin is the prototype of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth, Sherlock Holmes.

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Inasmuch as Poe uses this story to define and extend his arguments about the application of rational analysis to the whole of problem solving, whether it be draughts or whist or murder, there are long expository and often tediously constructed passages in this tale. Moreover, the characterization of Dupin as a mysterious and brilliant outsider leads Poe to dot his story with words and phrases from French and Latin and with several classical allusions. Further, the use of the first-person narrator allows the reader to know only what the narrator knows about Dupin and does not permit a view of Dupin’s psyche.

The somewhat stilted style of the expository passages in the story notwithstanding, the basic technique that Poe used has become the standard for the genre of detective fiction: the discovery of the scene of a crime; the visit to the scene by the detective; the collection of information that the police have overlooked; the discovery of the culprit as a result of the application of reason to the situation; and the final confrontation between the detective and the person or persons responsible for the crime. This pattern is now so familiar to readers that it is sometimes difficult to realize that it was Poe who created the formula less than a century and a half ago. Monsieur Dupin is the prototype of the gifted amateur detective. Arrogant, at home in the world of books and facts, he triumphs over evildoers whose machinations have stumped the best police minds.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The story is set in the city of Paris, France, in the mid-nineteenth century. The particularly brutal murders of a woman and her daughter...

(The entire section is 139 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Poe gained great recognition in the early 1840s for his creation of a type of story that has grown in popularity ever since — the detective...

(The entire section is 239 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

It is difficult to approach "The Murders of the Rue Morgue" with a fresh eye because it is such a widely read and frequently dramatized work....

(The entire section is 503 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Look carefully at the opening pages of the story and discuss the nature of the "analytical" faculty.

2. Discuss the...

(The entire section is 140 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Since this story is said to be the first detective story, and the one from which all subsequent detective stories derive, discuss some of...

(The entire section is 204 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Although Poe is credited with the creation of the detective story and the character type known as the amateur sleuth, Auguste Dupin and his...

(The entire section is 266 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

William Legrand, the central character in "The Gold Bug," shares some characteristics with Poe's famous amateur sleuth, Auguste Dupin. Like...

(The entire section is 567 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Buranelli, Vincent. Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Twayne, 1961. This is a basic introduction to Poe's works, focusing primarily on his...

(The entire section is 226 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Burluck, Michael L. Grim Phantasms: Fear in Poe’s Short Fiction. New York: Garland, 1993.

Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998.

Hutchisson, James M. Poe. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005.

Irwin, John T. The Mystery to a Solution: Poe, Borges, and the Analytical Detective Story. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.

Kennedy, J. Gerald. A Historical Guide to Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

May, Charles E. Edgar Allan Poe: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1991.

Peeples, Scott. Edgar Allan Poe Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1998.

Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe, A to Z. New York: Facts On File, 2001.

Whalen, Terence. Edgar Allan Poe and the Masses: The Political Economy of Literature in Antebellum America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999.