“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is unquestionably the first detective fiction story. This without a doubt makes Edgar Allan Poe the father of detective crime. Poe was gifted at writing the genre of horror, perhaps because as some say, his life had been “marred by tragedy from an early age”(online literature). He certainly did have a knack for telling interesting and imaginative tales, which was highlighted by his obsession with death and violence in his stories. Poe was able to keep his readers interested in his stories by not only writing of death and violence but also giving them mystery and a puzzle to solve.
Besides being the first detective story, “The Rue Morgue” is a story full of firsts; it tells the first locked room mystery in which the crime takes place inside a room that has been locked from the inside with no other way in or out and the main character is the first fictional detective. These types of mysteries are certain to keep a reader’s interest because it seems that there is no logical explanation. “The Rue Morgue” uses both the locked room mystery aspect and keeping the answers until the very end as interest keepers and blends them together to make one fine mystery.
This story is just as much about a mystery as it is about deductive reasoning. The characters of C. Auguste Dupin and the narrator, who is his housemate, live very secluded lives. It appears that they do not go out at all during the day but do go and entertain themselves by walking the streets of Paris at night. At an early point in the story the two men are walking when Dupin breaks the silence by a single sentence commenting on the very thoughts of his partner. This small mystery intrigues Dupin’s companion and the reader.
Dupin makes his rationalization seem “so simple that we all feel that we are capable of it. ”(Watt, “Overview”). The reader is compelled to believe that Dupin has an extraordinary power of insight the way he reasons his way to conclusions. He is not unlike Sherlock Holmes in this respect. Holmes is known for his rationalizations and reasoning as well as his eclectic lifestyle and odd habits just as Dupin is.
As a matter of fact it is said that Sir Arthur Canon Doyle was inspired by Poe and his Sherlock Holmes character is based on his detective, C. Auguste Dupin (Mansfield-Kelly, Marchino, 82) Unlike Holmes, Dupin is not a detective by profession; rather he is an amateur detective. He takes on the case of the murders in the Rue Morgue not for money but for his own amusement after reading about it in the paper. He feels that he is more competent than the police and that he can solve the crime before they can. He uses his analytical skills to deduce the solution, which we are enlightened by at the end of the story. He is keenly observant taking in every little detail of the house on the inside and outside.
Upon examining the windows in the bedroom Dupin had reasoned that the means of the murderers escape had to have been through either of the windows. As he examined more closely he discovered that they were nailed shut, or where they? One window had in fact had a nail in it, which would limit its usefulness as an escape. The other window however had been “fixed” so that it could be opened by a spring and when closed again the spring would catch and the window would look as though it was nailed shut as well.
Dupin comes to the conclusion that the murdered is an orangutan because of his obsession with literature and books. He is familiar with the description of the orangutan from Baron Georges Cuvier who describes the animal and it’s strength. By knowing these characteristics he is then able to compare the devastation of the two bodies with the “wild ferocity” (76) of the beast. This all of course is just a wild guess on Dupin’s part until he places an advertisement in a paper calling for the owner of an orangutan to come and claim his beast and a sailor (as he suspected) does indeed come for him.
The sailor reluctantly confirms Dupin’s observations to be correct as he describes the heinousness of the crimes in which this orangutan committed, which was a result of being frightened by the sight of his master’s whip. Poe adds a little bit of the grotesque as well. To go along with our class discussion about gore, this could arguably be a first detective story including gore in its pages. There are numerous examples throughout the story that are very descriptive and horrific in nature, especially for that time period.
Poe was quite explicit when describing the state of the bodies of the murdered, just as the scenes of the bodies and murders are in CSI. Illustrating the body of Madame L’Espanaye, Poe describes it as “her throat so entirely cut that, upon attempt to move to raise her, the head fell off. ” (62). Poe also gives a telling description of the act of slicing her throat, which is on page 80 in The Longman Anthology of Detective Fiction, “With one determined sweep of its muscular arm it nearly severed her head from her body. Another prime example of gore in this story is the description Dupin gives the narrator of the hair that was found on the hearth, “Their roots (a hideous site! ) were clotted with fragments of the flesh of the scalp – sure token of the prodigious power which had been exerted in uprooting perhaps half a million of hairs at a time. ” (74) These descriptions might not be something that we would consider to be gore by today’s standards, but in 1841 when this story was written it very well could have made people faint just reading it.
I may be simple in my analysis of this story, believing it to be about mystery and reasoning. I have read other people’s thoughts on the subject of this story, which include slavery. Though I don’t necessarily believe that Poe was disguising this story as an uprising against slavery, Edward Higgins White wrote a critical essay discussing that topic. His belief is that the true crime in this story is about slavery and that the orangutan is symbolic of this. He argues that the symbolism is mostly in the last section of the story in which the parallels to race and slavery are most notable.
White states ”Given the loaded connotations of key terms of the narrative–“escaped,” “master,” “dreaded whip,” “fugitive,” “razor,” and of course the “Ourang-Outang” itself–it would be nearly impossible to ignore the strong suggestions that the story is about slavery, and specifically about slave resistance. ” Now I don’t totally disagree with those connotations but I don’t completely believe that Poe was trying to convey that particular message with this story.
White questions why Poe feels the need to hide the slave rebel. I ask that same question. I just believe that he is reading too much into the story and is seeing things that are not really there. I do agree, however, that there are some strong parallels and that in reading his essay he makes a good argument. White also brings up the “Chantilly” passage. He summarizes the fifteen-minute walk in silence in which the detective and his companion take and how Dupin describes how he came to know what his friend was thinking about.
He says, “The basic point of the Chantilly sequence concerns not Dupin’s intelligence but the narrator’s ignorance: he does not even understand his own thought processes, the associations made in his imagination. ” It is this revelation that leads him to believe that Dupin’s subject is not necessarily the crime itself, but the process of assessing the crime, which reaffirms my belief that the story is about reasoning along with mystery. Edgar Allan Poe, the father of the American detective fiction story. Little did he know at the time the trend that he would be setting for all of literary fiction. The Murders in the Rue Morgue” set precedents for all detective fiction that would be written after it and it established the fundamentals of the detective story technique that are used today.
Poe invented the locked room mystery and I believe the first to write descriptions that could be classified as gore. His unique writing style and characters keep readers coming back and keep authors on their toes trying to emulate his style of writing. After all, with out Dupin there would be no Sherlock Holmes and perhaps the genre of detective fiction would not be as we know it to be now.
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