Edgar Allan Poe - The Murders in the Rue Morgue - A Tale of Ratiocination and the Prototype for Detective Stories

Term Paper, 2002

13 Pages, Grade: 1,3 (A)


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Poe´s Theoretical Approach to the Short Story

3. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”
3.1 Background
3.2 Structural Examination
3.3 The Main Characters
3.3.1 C. Auguste Dupin
3.3.2 The Narrator
3.4 Reader and Effect
3.5 Theme?

4. Conclusion – The Prototypical Character

5. Works Cited

6. Appendix – “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”

1. Introduction: On this Term Paper

Edgar Allan Poe is generally regarded as one of the most important and famous American authors. He wrote many short stories, poems and reviews. This term paper has not the aim to concentrate on his whole work but to examine a certain story.

The writer is especially famous for his “tales of ratiocination” (Carlson 319). One of these stories, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, shall be the central subject of this paper. Poe himself commented on this story to be “something in a new key” (Silverman 173). What I want to prove throughout this work is why “Rue Morgue” nowadays signifies not only something that was new, but the prototype of the modern detective story (a thesis we find in most of the literary encyclopaedias).

For reaching a satisfactory final result, it is necessary to have, at first, a look at the definition of the “short prose narrative” (Ahrends 19), which was given by Poe himself. This term is closely connected to the “tales of ratiocination” in which the usage of Poe’s primary principles reaches nearly perfection. This “perfection” is above all to be found in the story “Rue Morgue”, one of the best examples of Poe’s writing skills and the beginning of the creation of a new establishing literary genre. The analysis of the “Rue Morgue” will try to justify this thesis. Therefore, a further look at the main characters, the structure of the story, the reader’s expected reaction and more is required.

Finally, this working process shall lead me to my actual aim: The justification of the prototypical character of the “Rue Morgue” for (modern) detective fiction by summarizing the important features and elements of this literary genre.

2. Poe’s Theoretical Approach to the Short Story

For Poe (as one of the first theorists in this field), the short story was of nearly the same importance like the poem: Both should be seen at the highest level of the hierarchy of all literary genres (Ahrends 14). To justify this thesis, he argued that only a short tale could reach the required aim (or effect): a unified impression or a single effect on the mind of the reader created through the author’s work (Dameron 267). The main task of literature is to raise and excite the reader, to get him under control. This result can only be reached if the work is characterized by “unity” concerning to the intended effect as well as the formal shape of the work (Ahrends 14-16).

This demand leads to a certain way of the production of a short story: Poe does not speak of a process of inspiration and intention. It is rather a conscious construction (15).

A skilful literary artist has constructed a tale. If wise, he has not fashioned his thoughts to accommodate his incidents: but having conceived, with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out, he then invents such incidents-he then combines such events as may best aid him in establishing this preconceived effect. If his very initial sentence tends not to the out bringing of this effect, then he has failed in his first step. In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design. And by such means, with such care and skill, a picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction. The idea of the tale has been presented unblemished, because undisturbed. (qtd. in Dameron 267)

Therefore, the construction of the literary work depends on analytical planning done by the author as well as on a combinatory process in his mind, which both have to serve the intended effect. This is only possible if the story is written backwards. Besides, it is also necessary to have an optimal shaped story that might be read within one session as otherwise no desired result (effect) can be reached (Ahrends 15-16). In general, it is to say that content and form of the story have to form a well-constructed and economical unit.

This theoretical frame is the basis for Poe’s literary work, and especially for his “tales of ratiocination” which, as we will see throughout the analysis of “Rue Morgue”, were constructed consciously by fulfilling the stated conditions.

3. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”

3.1 Background

The story was published in April 1841 in Graham´s Magazine (for which Poe worked as assistant editor [Dameron 265]). It was a period of urbanization in the United States and “crime was much in the air.” (Silverman 171). “American cities increased number and pay of policemen and fostered scientific police work” (171). Sensational newspapers printed more and more records of criminal trials and reported suicides and murders” (171).

These articles gave many hints to Poe (172) and as a result, the readers were given the enjoyment of being entertained by a “detective story” (an expression which did not exist at this time in the English language [173]).


Excerpt out of 13 pages


Edgar Allan Poe - The Murders in the Rue Morgue - A Tale of Ratiocination and the Prototype for Detective Stories
Martin Luther University  (Institute for Anglistics/ American Studies)
Short Fiction
1,3 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
428 KB
Edgar, Allan, Murders, Morgue, Tale, Ratiocination, Prototype, Detective, Stories, Short, Fiction
Quote paper
Julia Schubert (Author), 2002, Edgar Allan Poe - The Murders in the Rue Morgue - A Tale of Ratiocination and the Prototype for Detective Stories, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/7291


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