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The Murders in the Rue Morgue

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Why is Dupin, from Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," considered a fictional character?

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There are many characters in stories and novels who are so well drawn that we may tend to think of them as real people. Such characters include the great Sherlock Holmes, and more recently Holden Caulfield of J. D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created Sherlock Holmes and introduced him in the first chapter of the novel A Study in Scarlet (1887), acknowledged that he was indebted to the so-called "stories of ratiocination" of Edgar Allan Poe for the basic idea of Sherlock Holmes. Poe's C. Auguste Dupin, like Sherlock Holmes, was a fictional creation who also appeared in Poe's stories "The Purloined Letter" And "The Mystery of Marie Roget." He was not a real person, and therefore he could not have really solved any crimes. The same is true of Sherlock Holmes. Like Sherlock Holmes, Dupin had a friend who accompanied him on his investigations and subsequently wrote them up as stories in the form of memoirs. Sherlock Holmes' friend, companion, and biographer was named Dr. John H. Watson. The narrator of the stories involving C. Auguste Dupin remains anonymous.

In analyzing the characters in short stories and novels, it is well to remember that these are not real people but have been created by the authors to serve a specific purpose. We should not try to analyze them too deeply, since they are not real human beings. They are given the characteristics they need to suit the plots of the stories and novels. Generally speaking, it is very useful to analyze a fictional character by considering how he or she fits the plot.

C. Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes are very much alike. They possess superior analytical powers and enjoy using them. "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" contains a single paragraph of dialogue spoken by Dupin which establishes many of the conventions used by Doyle in his Sherlock Holmes stories and by countless other mystery writers since.

“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.” 

The detective is useful to the official police and lets them take credit for his solutions. This brings him interesting cases and allows him to go into settings and conduct investigations that would be off limits to ordinary people. Also, the detective is often motivated by sympathy for an innocent person wrongfully accused of a crime. In this case it is a bank clerk named Le Bon. Erle Stanley Gardner based most of his many Perry Mason mysteries on the hero's motivation to save an innocent person wrongfully accused of a serious crime, usually a murder. Note also that C. Auguste Dupin tells his friend that "an inquiry will afford us amusement." Both Dupin and Sherlock Holmes delight in using their analytical powers just for the pleasure of using them. As Poe writes in the opening paragraph of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue":

THE MENTAL FEATURES discoursed of as the analytical, are, in themselves, but little susceptible of analysis. We appreciate them only in their effects. We know of them, among other things, that they are always to their possessor, when inordinately possessed, a source of the liveliest enjoyment. As the strong man exults in his physical ability, delighting in such exercises as call his muscles into action, so glories the analyst in that moral activity which disentangles. He derives pleasure from even the most trivial occupations bringing his talents into play. He is fond of enigmas, of conundrums, of hieroglyphics; exhibiting in his solutions of each a degree of acumen which appears to the ordinary apprehension preternatural. His results, brought about by the very soul and essence of method, have, in truth, the whole air of intuition.

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