Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is an extension of his gothic tales as well as the first detective fiction, although the word detective had not been coined yet. This story, along with “The Mystery of Marie Roget” (1843) and “The Purloined Letter” (1845), features the amateur detective C. Auguste Dupin, whose careful perception often seems intuitive and who serves as the model for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, and other detectives. At a time when the public was becoming concerned with crime and when police were developing strategies for criminal investigation, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” establishes a particularly urban narrative that imposes itself on the detective’s private quarters. The story depends on narrative unity and also establishes such conventions as the crime committed in a locked room, the detective’s reliance on keen observation, and the use of a first-person pont of view that is not the detective’s.
This story begins in the style of an essay but becomes a narrative about the mysterious and gruesome murders of a woman and her daughter. Dupin succeeds in solving the mystery and determining that the murderer is a sailor’s orangutan because Dupin, unlike the police, looks at the crime as extraordinary, sees the murders in relation to larger events and from different angles, and discovers the hidden pattern. More specifically, he notes peculiarities in witnesses’ accounts, recognizes the brutality and disorder of the crime as inhuman, and pieces together clues such as the extraordinarily large span of the bruises on the victim’s throat as well as nonhuman hair found in the victim’s hand. The orangutan makes literal the metaphor of murder as a bestial act and, as in many of Poe’s tales including “The Black Cat” (1843) and “The Tell Tale Heart” (1843), presents a motiveless murderer.
Eco, Umberto, and Thomas A. Sebeok, eds. The Sign of Three: Dupin, Holmes, Peirce. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983.
Levine, Stuart, and Susan Levine, eds. The Short Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1990.