“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841)
Edgar Allen Poe
Edgar Allan Poe, (born January 19, 1809, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.—died October 7, 1849, Baltimore, Maryland), American short-story writer, poet, critic, and editor who is famous for his cultivation of mystery and the macabre. His tale “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841) initiated the modern detective story, and the atmosphere in his tales of horror is unrivaled in American fiction. His “The Raven” (1845) numbers among the best-known poems in the national literature.
“The Murder in the Rue Morgue” Analysis
C. Auguste Dupin, fictional detective appearing in three stories by Edgar Allan Poe. Dupin was the original model for the detective in literature.
Based on the roguish François-Eugène Vidocq, onetime criminal and founder and chief of the French police detective organization Sûreté, Dupin is a Paris gentleman of leisure who for his own amusement uses “analysis” to help the police solve crimes. In the highly popular short stories “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841) and “The Purloined Letter” (1845), as well as the less-successful “The Mystery of Marie Roget” (1845), Dupin is depicted as an eccentric, a reclusive amateur poet who prefers to work at night by candlelight and who smokes a meerschaum pipe—foreshadowing the nocturnal Sherlock Holmes. Like Holmes, Dupin is accompanied by a rather obtuse sidekick, though Dupin’s companion, unlike Dr. Watson, remains nameless.
Discussion Questions for “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”
The title of this story is "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," but the narrator spends nearly the first third of the story on chess players, whist players, and Chantilly the comic/tragic actor. What is the purpose of this long introduction to Dupin's method? What would be the effect of jumping right into the murder plot?
In explaining his logic for his "tales of ratiocination", Poe talks about presenting clues for the reader to reason along with his protagonist. Do we have the clues we need to solve this mystery before the sailor appears to explain all? What is the purpose of presenting so much detail to the reader (e.g., the three spoons of metal d'Alger, the four gold Napoleons, etc.) that will never reappear in the story again?
How can we compare and contrast Dupin's characterization with later classic detectives like Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot?
How does Dupin differentiate his own great brain from those of the police? Do you find this distinction effective? How might including the Prefect of Police as a character with his own lines change or influence the argument the story is making for reason + imagination?
Dupin is two things: 1) brilliant, and 2) antisocial. Are these two character traits related?
Dupin appears dispassionate, by which we mean that he doesn't seem to feel much. After all, after Le Bon's arrest, he tells the narrator that investigating the case will be amusing, and that he owes Le Bon a favor. He doesn't seem overly concerned that someone he knows is locked up in jail. Why does reason seem to be incompatible with feeling in this story? What kinds of emotions seem to rule Dupin and the other characters?
Where in the story does right vs. wrong come in to play for Dupin, and why? What conclusions, if any, can we make about his views on morality and judgment?
Does the animal nature of the "villain" change our expectations for justice by the end of the story? How might the moral of the story have been different if the killer had, in fact, been human? Why make the criminal in a mystery story an animal at all?
What kind of blame does the sailor bear for the deaths of the L'Espanayes? How does Dupin judge the sailor's responsibility, and do you agree with his verdict?
How would "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" be different if it were set in a small town? What kinds of clues do we get as a result of setting the story in cosmopolitan Paris?