“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was first published in April 1841 in Graham’s Magazine in Philadelphia in the United States of America. It was very different to the contempary writing of the time. The gruesome murder scene and vivid imagery that the writer uses to describe the condition of the murdered bodies was unusual and extreme in the 1840’s. In fact Poe had difficulty in getting the story published.
“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” holds a crucial position in the evolution of modern writing as the first of the detective series which became popular throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The detective Auguste Dupin would be followed by many famous names in literature, such as Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Homes and Christie’s Hercule Poirot.
The first episode to be considered is the first meeting between the Narrator and Dupin. This episode sets the scene for the future relationship between the two men and forms part of the introduction to the story. In this episode Dupin tells the narrator about himself in an open and candid way. He tells him about his background, family history and personal circumstances.
In this episode the narrator’s words give a favourable first impression of Dupin:
“Seeking in Paris the objects I then sought, I felt that the society of such a man would be to me a treasure beyond price.”
It indicates that the narrator values his new relationship with Dupin and it shows that they have a lot in common. The impression of Dupin from this episode is of a man whose only interest is in books and knowledge and has few pleasures in life. It makes us feel sympathy for Dupin because he clearly has had a difficult life and he seems to be lonely.
The second episode is where Dupin asks the narrator’s opinion about the murders and where they visit the Rue Morgue following the imprisonment of Le Bon. This episode is crucial to the story because it shows Dupin’s views of the police and his own approach to finding answers to difficult problems. He calls the enquiry
“a shell of an examination”
implying that it is hollow and has no substance. He acknowledges that the police mean well and that in many cases they may be good and hard working, but he is very critical of their abilities to solve more difficult investigations. He speaks of the police in a negative way, saying they are
“cunning, but no more”
and their results are “Brought about by simple diligence and activity”. He accuses Vidocq of having
“erred continually” and impairing his vision be holding the object too close.
The visit to the Rue Morgue shows by comparison how Dupin is able to see the bigger picture. He scrutinises the whole neighbourhood as well as the house itself. The Narrator is clearly puzzled by the intense examination as he can not see any reason for it. In this episode the narrator confirms the view of Dupin as an analytical person.
The impression of Dupin is of someone who is critical of others’ abilities but is totally confident in his own. He is arrogant but does not see this as a flaw in his character. There is also a feeling that Dupin is rather an odd person because he says
“an enquiry will afford us amusement.”
This statement implies that this is how Dupin gets his pleasure, that it is his idea of fun. Dupin appears to me in this episode a less likeable character who feels superior to others and who can find amusement from terrible events. It is as if he has no emotions for the victims but is only concerned with the investigation.
The third episode is where Dupin and the Narrator meet the sailor. This meeting occurs at the end of the story. It is the point where the result of Dupin’s investigations comes together and where all is revealed to the Narrator as well as the reader.
In this episode Dupin manages to find out the truth from the sailor by first of all making him feel scared because of his involvement with the murders and by locking the door to the room and taking out a pistol. He remains very calm however and places the pistol on the table, indicating that he does not want to resort to violence.
“You shall give me all the information in your power about the murders in the Rue Morgue.”
He then becomes very kind to the sailor and comforts him by saying that he knows he is not to blame for anything.
“I perfectly well know that you are innocent of the atrocities in the Rue Morgue”.
The Narrator portrays Dupin as a very clever person who is able to manipulate the sailor in order to get to the truth of the murders. His kindness to the sailor does not seem genuine because he uses it as a tactic to make the man talk. The impression of Dupin in this episode is of a person who understands human nature and how people think and react in certain situations. The way I respond to Dupin’s actions is to feel sympathy for the sailor and to admire Dupin’s intellect and the way he reads people but at the same time, Dupin does not seem to be a likeable character.
In my opinion this story is trying to do a number of things. It is clearly a good detective story, but it also breaks new ground for literature of that time and the gruesome details are deigned to shock the reader. The story is also used to discuss the difference in people’s abilities and how this can affect the outcome of a situation and Dupin is used as an example. The police may be hard working and diligent but they come to the wrong conclusion because they do not have the right skills. Dupin is able to come to the right conclusion because he has a superior intellect but this does not make him a likeable character.