Poe's Short Stories

the purtoined letter by edgar allan poe

what is the analysis fo the story. need to evaluate the literary aspects of the story.you may compare it to more familiar poe stories.

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Whereas Dupin's investigation in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" established the basic form for a classic whodunit mystery, "The Purloined Letter" takes an entirely different route to highlight Dupin's methods of ratiocination and use of creativity to place himself in the mind of the criminal. The case is clear in that the thief and the details of the crime are perfectly obvious, but what is not clear is how to outwit the thief and return the letter to its rightful owner. The story shows much more of the character of the Prefect, who merely appeared in order to act disgruntled and embarrassed at the end of the first Dupin story. As a result, the narrative includes two characters, the narrator and the Prefect, who serve as obvious foils to Dupin, while the Minister's similarities to Dupin advance the concept of double selves that is prevalent in so many of Poe's stories.

With his energy, obvious emotions, and lack of insight, the Prefect stands in direct opposition to Dupin's calmer, more analytical approach to solving cases. His major fault is that he does not understand that the key to solving a case is to think in a way that successfully approximates the mindset of the criminal; instead, he resorts to trying to find more and more clever ways that he would personally have chosen to hide the letter while chasing answers that are increasingly further away from the correct solution. Whether the case is grisly and bizarre as in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" or simple and clever as in this instance, Monsieur G. requires the assistance of Dupin because of his consistent inability to imagine the psyches of others. The narrator is less removed from Dupin's point of view and is more inclined to think as Dupin would, but he lacks the perception that allows him to reason out the case himself and becomes a surrogate for the reader. Because the narrator writes in the first person, he takes on the role of conveying and interpreting Dupin's brilliance for the average individual.

The clash between the Prefect and Dupin is revealing of their opposing temperaments, but it is also a source of humor, as Dupin constantly but subtly takes ironic verbal jabs at the oblivious Prefect, whom the story constantly shows at a relative mental disadvantage. When the Prefect explains that the owner of the letter contacted the Parisian police to help her retrieve the letter, for example, Dupin sarcastically remarks that it must be a reflection of the Prefect's intelligence, a prod which the latter fails to notice, therefore highlighting his inability to understand anyone's thoughts but his own. Later, the Prefect dismisses the Minister because he is a poet and thus a fool, but Dupin notes drolly that he too is something of a poet. The exchange is entertaining because the Prefect is totally unaware of the fact that a poet's creativity is the trait that allows one to think like a Dupin or a Minister D. instead of like the Prefect.

On the other side of the divide between the unimaginative and the analytical lies Minister D., who might be Dupin's equal in understanding the human mind. The concept of alter egos often appears in Poe's short stories, and Minister D. functions as the criminal version of Dupin, a man who generally acts on the side of the law. Dupin evidently recognizes the similarity, for he tells the narrator that the Minister "is that monstrum horrendum, an unprincipled man of genius," and he takes pleasure in trumping the Minister in a battle of wits. In the fake letter that Dupin leaves for the Minister, he provides a quote about two Greek brothers from mythology, Atreus and Thyestes. Thyestes commits adultery with Atreus's wife, and in revenge, Atreus kills and cooks Thyestes's sons before feeding them to his brother. The quote implies that although Atreus committed a great wrong, Thyestes was as much or more at fault because he started the feud. The example is extreme, but Dupin nonetheless sends the quote to explain that although Dupin may have stolen the letter, the Minister was at fault because he committed the first crime.

Despite all the discussion concerning the whereabouts of the letter in "The Purloined Letter," the letter itself is merely a literary device around which Poe constructs a game of wits. The contents of the letter and its implications in the political sphere are not included because the plot does not need them, and any other object would have served just as well. Significantly, when Dupin finally finds the letter, the Minister has placed it carelessly into a rack hanging from the fireplace after folding it inside-out and making it appear insignificant. The manner of his hiding the letter is extremely relevant for the purposes of the story, but its inconsequential appearance reflects its relative importance in the novel. We might also consider it ironic that after all the fuss over the letter, its contents will never become any more public to the fictional world of Dupin than it will to the reader.