Despite Dupin’s astuteness as a detective, ‘The Purloined Letter’ is not satisfactorily a detective story. For one, we know the culprit’s identity from the beginning, and we have very little knowledge about the other circumstances.
“Well, then; I have received personal information, from a very high quarter, that a certain document of the last importance, has been purloined from the royal apartments. The individual who purloined it is known; this beyond a doubt; he was seen to take it. It is known, also, that it still remains in his possession."
Later the reader comes to know the letter’s contents, and the only thing to be done is to assume him significance of the origin and the nature of its destination (Pierre, 34). The reader also has very little knowledge about the participants in the event.
This can only mean that ‘The Purloined Letter’ is not satisfactory since it ends not in epistemic catharsis. The notion that the reader takes part in the investigation of a crime and therefore should be given the whole information on which the detective relates or bases his conclusions is quite modern. In "The Purloined Letter," there is a little chance for the reader to take part, first because little information about Minister D’s character is known in the first part of the story, and, two, because there is no indicator of any activity undertaken by Dupin until the second half. The following quotation explains the perception the narrator had of the Minister;
“This functionary, however, has been thoroughly mystified; and the remote source of his defeat lies in the supposition that the Minister is a fool, because he has acquired renown as a poet. All fools are poets; this Prefect feels; and he is merely guilty of a non distributio medii in thence inferring that all poets are fools."
Poe's purpose was not to invite the participation of the reader; instead it was to emphasize rationality, emphasizing logical thinking as a way of solving problems. As a result, Dupin's exposition of his line of thought processes are the most paramount or vital part of the story. Had this logical investigation not been highlighted as well as a solution of a problem, the detective story may not have been developed; certainly it would actually have been very different if it had. However, with this approach and method established, it became rather easy, and logical, to evolve the idea of the reader as a person who took part. “I saw, in fine, that he would be driven, as a matter of course, to simplicity.”(Poe, 31)
“The latter examined it carefully and deposited it in his pocket-book; then, unlocking an escritoire, took thence a letter and gave it to the Prefect.”(Poe, 21)
An attempt to determine a criminal’s psychology is a tradition that is honorable in detective fiction. As more about human beings is learned, the methods that are particularly used also change, as well as their motivations and behaviors, maybe even in a bigger way or the same way as psychological theories change. Therefore, much of Dupin’s or Poe’s psychology seem dated, especially the explanations. For example, the boy used by Dupin as an example arranges his face such that it is similar to another person’s expression as much as possible; this is supposed or ought to give rise to thoughts and feelings that are the same as another person’s.
Outward expressions, that is, clothes, facial expressions and so on, are actually thought to have an effect of the way a person feels, this idea being rather current; that effect is thought to be general as opposed to specific while we are no longer of the belief that we can attain much knowledge about another person in this way (Rzepka, 32). Additionally, that thinking habits most likely contribute to a person's success in a particular field is probably true, though, the distinctions are not as rigid as Poe makes them appear, nor are the qualities sallow by no means. Despite the principles used by Dupin being rather outdated, he has gotten a direct method (Pierre, 23). Of course, this method is applicable to other types of problems that are posed in detective fiction; any time the detective can apply and learn some knowledge of the psychology of the criminal, he is not far from solving the crime;
"All the grounds are paved with brick. They gave us comparatively little trouble. We examined the moss between the bricks, and found it undisturbed."(Poe, 24)
The stories era, that is, the political system in France gets revealed by other details in ‘The Purloined Letter,’ as well as Dupin’s comment about mathematics, poetry, and particularly sciences. Either way the story flows well and the details get overshadowed by the story and the sweep of the puzzle, "The Purloined Letter" would still be of paramount historical importance since it brings out the solution of the most obvious place, the method of psychological deduction, and the assumption that the most difficult cases to solve always seem to be the simplest, even if the story were not still interesting reading. "The Purloined Letter" provides both good reading and historical interest in detective fiction (Poe, 17).
“The principle of the vis inertiae, for example, seems to be identical in physics and metaphysics.”
Sherlock Holmes and The Purloined letter relate to each other in that both use logical reasoning in solving crimes. Of course, both fall under detective stories.
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A Critical Analysis of "The Purloined Letter"
by Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe"s background influenced him to write the short story "The
Purloined Letter". One important influence on the story is that Poe seem to feel inferior to
his class mates while in college, which may have been why he wrote Dupin to be seen as
superior to his colleagues. While at the University of Virginia he owed others high
amounts of money because of gambling, he would drink excessively to help hide his
feelings of inadequacy. (Taylor) The second influence on this short story I believe is Poe"s
extent in the United States Army. He time in the military was unsuccessful. Because of his
experience he made the Perfect of the police a little lacking in intelligence. This
background, together with a believable plot, convincing characterization, and important
literary devices, enables Edgar Allan Poe in "The Purloined Letter" to develop the them
that characteristic of the human animal to overlook the obvious.
This story does not have a surprise ending nor does is really have a sense of
suspense. You know from the beginning who took the letter, but you do not know what
information was contained in the letter and how that information would have affect the
queen. The only surprise may be in where the letter was keep throughout the story, in
plain site. The Perfect of the police searched the Minister"s lodgings many nights while
the Minister was out. Looked from every possible angle trying to find the letter, not
succeeding any of those times. After looking the Perfect went to Dupin asking for his help.
He explains what he has already done. After listing to what the Perfect has to say, Dupin
goes to see the Minister. While he is there he looks around. On one of the walls he sees a
tack board on which the letter is tacked. He takes a careful look at it. Excuses himself for
the day. Dupin "forgets" his snuffbox, so he may return the next day with a copy of the
letter and take the real letter and return it to it"s rightful owner. In the fake letter Dupin
lets the Minister know that he knows what is going on between the Minister and the
Queen. The type of conflict face Dupin is that of others. How he interface with the other
characters. He has solved the mystery but has to work around the Minister. While doing
this he seeks revenge for an event that happened in the past.
The protagonist of "The Purloined Letter" is Dupin, the detective. He is right on
the money while talking about how humans over look the most obvious things. That is
how he came to find where the letter was hidden while visiting the Minister. Dupin is
consistent in his behavior. He always acts as if he is better than everyone else that he come
in contact with. The is shown in the way that he tells a story about big and small signs,
which leads to the solving of the not so missing letter. He says that most people over look
the obvious, sense he did not over look it, the letter, he is not the average person. His
motivation is to show that he is better than the average person. He displays that just for
the fact that he is a detective.
One of the many literary devices used by Poe is that of foreshadowing. One place
where that is used is near the beginning where it says "If it is any point requiring
reflection," observed Dupin, as he forbore to enkindle the wick," we shall examine it to
better purpose in the dark." Which implies that the case is so simple that it can be solved
in the dark. He said this before hearing anything about the case or the reason for the visit
from the Perfect of the police. Poe also use humor throughout the short story. ""Perhaps
the mystery is a little to plain," said Dupin ." Saying that the Perfect is not smart and
making the mystery out harder than it actually is.
I believe that the short story "The Purloined Letter" by Edgar Allan Poe is good
story about human nature. How us humans tend to over look the obvious. The way Poe
achieves this taking to types of people and showing how they see the same situation
different ways. Many times you just need to look at the situation from another
Dameron, J. Lasley and Jacobs, Robert D. "Edgar Allan Poe." American Literary Critics
and Scholars, 1800-1850. Ed. Rathbun, John and Grecu, Monica. Vol 59. Book
Tower. Detroit: Gale pg 257-75
Eliot, T.S. "From Poe To Valery" To Criticize the Critic. Ed. Eliot, TBS. Fairer Giroux.
RPT Nineteenth Century Literatue Criticism. 1948 pg 33-4
Grossvogel, David I. "The Purloined Letter": The Mystery of the Text."
Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism. ED Harris, Laurie Lanzen. Vol 77 Book
Tower. Detroit: Gale pg 530-32
Hull, Richard. "The Purloined Letter": Poe"s detective story vs. panoptic Foucauldian
Theory. Style . vol 2. Issue 2 pg. 201
Kasinec, Denise and Onorato, Mary L. Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism. Vol 55.
Taylor, Richard C. "Edgar Allan Poe" Coloization to the American Renaissance,
1640-1865. Vol 2. Book Tower. Detroit: Gale pg 298-344
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