Poe’s Short Stories

by: Edgar Allan Poe

“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841)

Summary “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841)

Dupin also addresses the mode of entry through the windows. The police imagine that no suspect could climb up the walls to the point of entry. Dupin hypothesizes that a person or thing of great agility could leap from the lightning rod outside the window to the shutters of the window. Dupin surmises that no ordinary human could inflict the beating that Madame L’Espanaye suffered. The murderer would have to possess superhuman strength and inhuman ferocity. To satisfy the confusion of the narrator, Dupin points out that the hair removed from Madame L’Espanaye’s fingers was not human hair. After drawing a picture of the size and shape of the hand that killed the two women, Dupin reveals his solution. The hand matches the paw of an Ourang-Outang.

Dupin has advertised the safe capture of the animal, news that he believes will draw out its owner. Dupin adds that the owner must be a sailor, since, at the base of the lightning rod, he found a ribbon knotted in a way unique to naval training.

When the sailor arrives, Dupin draws his pistol and demands all the information he knows about the murders. He assures the sailor that he believes him to be innocent. The sailor describes how the animal, grasping a razor, escaped from its closet one night and disappeared from his apartment. The sailor followed the Ourang-Outang and watched him climb the lightning rod and leap into the window. Because he does not possess the animal’s agility, the sailor could only watch the animal as it slashed Madame L’Espanaye and choked Camille. Before escaping the apartment, the animal threw Madame L’Espanaye’s body to the courtyard below. The sailor thus confirms the identity of the mysterious voices—the deep voice was his own, and the shrill shrieks were that of the Ourang-Outang.

When informed of Dupin’s solution, the police release Le Bon. The prefect is unable to conceal his chagrin at being outwitted by Dupin. He is happy to have the crime solved, but he is sarcastic, rather than grateful, about Dupin’s assistance. Dupin comments, in conclusion, that the prefect is a man of ingenuity, not analysis.

Analysis

“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” introduces a new genre of short fiction to American literature: the detective story. The detective story emerged from Poe’s long-standing interest in mind games, puzzles, and secret codes called cryptographs, which Poe regularly published and decoded in the pages of the Southern Literary Messenger. He would dare his readers to submit a code he could not decipher. More commonly, though, Poe created fake personalities who would send in puzzles that he solved. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” along with the later story “The Purloined Letter,” allows Poe to sustain a longer narrative in which he presents seemingly unsolvable conundrums that his hero, M. Auguste Dupin, can always ultimately master. Dupin becomes a stand-in for Poe, who constructs and solves an elaborate cryptograph in the form of a bizarre murder case.

Poe’s life is also relevant to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” The tale’s murders involve two women, and Poe spent his adult life with his wife, Virginia, and his aunt, Maria “Muddy” Clemm. The deaths of women resonate with Poe’s early childhood experience of watching his mother die and Francis Allan suffer. The chaotic and deathly Rue Morgue apartment symbolizes the personal tragedies involving women that afflicted Poe’s life. Poe contrasts the violent disorder of Madame L’Espanaye’s household with the calm domesticity that Dupin and the narrator experience. Poe never found, in his lifetime, this sort of household solace, and he invests this scene of domestic ruin with the poignant experiences of his own life. The creation of Dupin allows Poe not only to highlight his own remarkable cunning, but also to share in the domestic tranquility and fraternity that he long sought.