"The Murders in the Rue Morgue"
In Edgar Allen Poe's short story, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", a
classic detective story is played out in a seedy Paris suburb. The story begins as
the narrator meets Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin, a poor but well-read young man.
As they become close friends, they live together in seclusion, departing only
briefly each evening to take introspective strolls along the dark Paris streets.
Soon both the reader and the narrator begin to see Dupin's intimate knowledge
of the human mind, always an underlying element in Poe's prose. Dupin's
extraordinary observances are made by retracing a "course" of human thought
until an endpoint, the thought that is presently in the subject's head, is reached.
With this still fresh in mind, Poe gives us a mystery taken right from the local
Gazette, two recent murders with questionable motives and circumstances, the
search for the murderer has proved futile. Poe's stage is now set. The murders,
of Madame and Mademoiselle L'Espanaye are then related by a series of eleven
eyewitnesses, a diverse mix of occupation and culture. However, they concur on
one point: all heard an indistinguishable voice ("that of a foreigner") and one of
an angered Frenchman at the scene of the crime. As the account of the last
witness is registered, Dupin and the narrator decide to examine the apartment
on the Rue Morgue for themselves. The Sherlock Holmes-like protagonist does
not disappoint us. Dupin assures the narrator that he knows who the culprit is,
and he is indeed awaiting his arrival. After collecting evidence and careful
analysis, Dupin seems to have solved the murder beyond the shadow of a doubt.
The strange circumstances lead Dupin to believe that the perpetrator could not
have been human but of the animal kingdom. He cites an orangutan as the killer,
an escapee from a careless owner. This accounts for the grotesque methods of
murder and the foreign "voice" that is heard at the scene of the crime. The angry
Frenchman witnesses mentioned was the ape's owner, who discovered his pet's
plunder after it was too late. Dupin is correct in his accusation and places an ad
in the Gazette for a found orangutan. The owner comes right to him, and the
mystery is solved.
"The Murders in the Rue Morgue" is a showcase of Poe's amazing writing
style, and the short story is full of rhetorical devices. Two literary devices that
are evident are Poe's creative use of point of view and gothic setting. "The
Murders in the Rue Morgue" is told in the first person point of view, presumably
Poe's view, acting as a narrator. This point of view provides for a more intimate
relation of the sordid tale, stating, " I often dwelt meditatively upon the old
philosophy of the Bi-Part Soul, and amused myself with the fancy of a double
Dupin-the creative and the resolvent. (p. 4)" Without this personal point of view,
the reader would be oblivious to Dupin's separate personalities. This "up close
and personal" view of Dupin is known because of the first person narration.
Another point of view is also useful. Monsieur Dupin solves the mystery and to
do so, must take on an entirely new point of view, that of the criminal. Using this
technique, Dupin delves into the mind of a careless Frenchman and his pet
orangutan. Poe also incorporates a gothic setting into the story. The gothic
setting is absolute. Located on the Rue Morgue-"Death Street," the title
foreshadows a catastrophe. The murder scene is a grotesque setting complete
with hideously dismembered bodies and severed heads. The Paris suburb of
Faubourg-St.Germain gives the mystery an aura of gloom and sets the stage for
violence. The home of the pair is described as, "...a time-eaten and grotesque
mansion, a style which suited the rather fantastic gloom of our common temper,
long deserted through superstition into which we did not inquire, and tottering to
its fall in a retired and desolate portion of the Faubourg St. Germain. (p.3)" This
description certainly echoes Poe's inclination for gothic setting, and he even
goes so far to use words like grotesque and gloom. Both of these literary devices
help to create an atmosphere of suspense and help further Poe's narrative.
In "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," the reader can tell this is a Romantic
story because of Poe's emphasis on the connection between human imagination
and the natural world and the journey into the complex world of human emotion.
Dupin serves as a predecessor of Sherlock Holmes as he successfully solves a
problem by projecting himself into the thinking process of the criminal. He is able
to collect and sift evidence, to screen the important from the unimportant in the
conflicting testimony of bewildered or dishonest witnesses. Like many Romantic
protagonists, Dupin depends upon his intellect and imagination to produce
success that applies to the natural world. For example, Dupin states, "...that he
failed in the solution of this mystery is by no means that matter for wonder which
he supposes it; for, in truth, our friend the [police chief] is somewhat too cunning
to be profound. In his wisdom is no [underlying principle.] (p. 35)" Here, Dupin
explains that the police chief could not solve the mystery because he did not use
his imagination and emotion to find a connection to the natural world. Unlike
Dupin, the police chief did not seek a natural world solution to a natural world
problem. Poe also reveals a Romantic view as Dupin says, "...it is not our part as
reasoners, to reject it on account of apparent impossibilities. It is only left for us
to prove that these apparent 'impossibilities' are, in reality, not such.(p. 23)"
Here, Dupin states that the human imagination cannot be limited by improbability
when looking for solutions applying to the natural world, but must consider all
possibilities, however improbable, until proven wrong. In other words,
imagination and emotion should not limit, but guide the natural world. Because
of this apparent connection, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" is a true reflection