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The Murders in the Rue Morgue

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 313

Edgar Allan Poe wrote three stories about C. Auguste Dupin; this was the first one. Each of the Dupin stories contains essentially the same theme: the triumph of analytical reasoning over mere thinking. Again and again in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Poe, through the assertions of Dupin, makes invidious comparisons between the crime-solving methods of the police and the analytical powers of the highly trained mind. In this tale, it is necessary that the gifted Dupin visit the scene of the crime and make careful observations of the physical evidence in order to draw his conclusions. It is not always necessary, however, for the amateur detective to be on the scene, because most of what he accomplishes he achieves by careful analysis of the facts in the case.

In this story, the now classic locked-room mystery is introduced for the first time. Moreover, Poe created here the first detective story in American literature. In so doing, he also created the basic template that later writers in England and the United States would use to build their detective heroes. Thus, it was with the publication of this tale that Poe became the father of the detective story.

An important thematic element in this story is the use of reason as a kind of defense against unreason, of rationality against irrationality. The horror of the murders in the Rue Morgue disturbs the little universe of the neighborhood; Dupin’s application of reason to the problem restores order. Thus, Poe, through the medium of this and other of his detective stories, seems to be arguing that reason is humanity’s most potent weapon against acts of madness. However, because Dupin is depicted as an extraordinary human being whose behavior and analytical powers mark him as an outsider, it would seem that, for Poe, the forces of reason may be overcome in the long run.

Social Concerns / Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 436

Poe's fiction is not concerned with social issues. He viewed true reality as a process of the mind, not a fact of physical existence; consequently, for Poe, the human mind rather than the social world is the preferred arena of action. The only aspect of his detective stories that might suggest social relevance is the fact that crime by its very nature is a violation of the social order. It is the task of the detective to restore order once again. However, although this may be the ultimate result of Dupin's solving of the crimes that confront him, it is obviously not his conscious intention. Dupin wishes to discover order and meaning in the bits and pieces of the mysterious reality that surrounds him. If this results in a restoration of the social order as well, then that is an unsought by-product of his ratio-cinative abilities.

"Murders in the Rue Morgue" is set in the city of Paris, France, in the mid-nineteenth century. The particularly brutal murders of a woman and her daughter have stumped the police. A young man of noble birth but of diminished financial means, Auguste Dupin decides after reading about the crime in the newspapers that he can solve what the police cannot. As a result, the physical setting of the story is less important than its mental setting — the mind of Dupin. There is little overt action in the story; the details of the crime itself are all derived from newspaper accounts. The solution of the crime requires no overt action, but, as has become the tradition of the detective story, is an armchair process whereby the detective recounts the events of the crime as he has deduced them from the available clues.

Additional Commentary

Poe's fiction is not concerned with social issues. He viewed true reality as a process of the mind, not a fact of physical existence; consequently, for Poe, the human mind rather than the social world is the preferred arena of action. The only aspect of his detective stories that might suggest social relevance is the fact that crime by its very nature is a violation of the social order. It is the task of the detective to restore order once again. However, although this may be the ultimate result of Dupin's solving of the crimes that confront him, it is obviously not his conscious intention. Dupin wishes to discover order and meaning in the bits and pieces of the mysterious reality that surrounds him. If this results in a restoration of the social order as well, then that is an unsought by-product of his ratiocinative abilities.

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