Prevailing Ingenuity in Edgar Allan Poe's"The Purloined Letter." In crafting the detective mystery, Edgar Allan Poe is the only author credited with inventing a new genre of literature. His contribution of this brand of story telling greatly influences writers to this day. "The Purloined Letter" is the final tale in the trilogy of the clever and cunning amateur detective, C. Auguste Dupin. In this story, The Prefect of the Parisian police calls upon Dupin to aid in an investigation that has baffled and frustrated the police. Dupin finds a worthy adversary in the antagonist, Minister D.
Dupin must identify with the mind of the criminal in order to retrieve a stolen letter and return it to its rightful owner. With the dynamic relationship between Dupin, Prefect G. , and Minister D. , Poe skillfully illustrates that an ingenious felon will always outwit his opponent if the opponent is incapable of identifying with the felon's intellect. The plot of the story is about how a clever and ingenious amateur detective solves a mystery that has baffled the police for months. The story begins with a visit from the Prefect of Police to Dupin's apartment for advice on a matter of "extreme urgency and sensitivity." At first, Prefect G.
is cryptic about the details of the case, but Dupin quickly retrieves more information from the officer. For all practical purposes, the initial crime has been solved and the police are aware of the identity of the perpetrator. The only remaining task is to recover the letter belonging to a "Lady of high position," presumably a member of the royal family, and returning it to her. The theft of the letter was committed in full view of the Lady by Minister D. , but she was unable to prevent the documents removal by the Minister without bringing attention to its sensitive contents. It is feared that the letter will be used as an instrument of blackmail against the Lady.
Desperate to recover the letter, the Lady approaches the Prefect and offers him a substantial reward for its recovery and for his utmost discretion in keeping it secret. Fueled by his desire for the reward, and confident in his abilities of investigation he accepts the challenge and assures her the affair will remain secret. Months pass and although the police have searched the Minister's home repeatedly, and in great detail, the letter remains undiscovered. The prefect even admits to Dupin that in his frustrating efforts to recover the letter, he has twice had the Minister accosted and searched with no success. A month later, Prefect G. returns to Dupin's apartment to report that the letter has yet to be found.
The Prefect offers a reward of fifty thousand francs to anyone who can find it. Upon hearing of the reward, Dupin hands Prefect G. a checkbook and tells him to fill out the check and he will turn over the letter. After taking possession of the found document, G. rushes from the apartment, and Dupin informs the narrator how he managed to obtain the purloined letter. Unknown to the narrator or the Prefect, Dupin, wearing colored spectacles, visits the Minister under false pretenses.
During his visit his eyes search the apartment and he notices a damaged and soiled letter placed openly on a rack, and determines it to be the document in question. He purposefully forgets his gold snuffbox as he leaves the Ministers apartment. The next morning, when Dupin returns to retrieve his forgotten property, a planned disturbance outside of Minister D.'s apartment allows Dupin to replace the original document with a fraudulent reproduction he had prepared the night before. This done, he exits the apartment, leaving Minister D. stripped of the power of blackmail over the Lady. He also leaves in the false document a message for Minister D.
to let him know who had made a fool of him. C. Auguste Dupin is an eccentric, intellectually brilliant man with a steadfast reputation as a clever and cunning detective. He is confident in his intellectual superiority. Proof of this confidence emerges through a discussion with the narrator in which he gives his opinion of Prefect G. Dupin believes that G.
"perpetually errs by being too deep or too shallow, for the matter at hand; and many a schoolboy is a better reasoner than he" (105). Dupin's sense of intellectual superiority, at times, seems arrogant. As an example, when he reveals that he is in possession of the letter he astounds not only Prefect G. , but also his good friend, the narrator, in whom he chose not to confide. Robert Gayle, who wrote, "Dupin may be viewed as a pardonable sinner, since he is cold, deliberately aloof, intellectually proud, and deficient in warm emotions," shares this opinion (15).
When Dupin reveals that his antagonist, Minister D. , had once done him an "evil turn," he can not resist including a note in the facsimile letter to reveal a clue as to the "identity of the person who outwitted him," proving that, in addition to his intellectual confidence and superiority, he also possesses a fondness for revenge and a sense of pride in beating his opponent. Tony Magistrale believes "his gratification is akin to what a student of mathematics feels in arriving at the answer to a vexing equation - a mixture of intellectual and emotional satisfaction" (120). The antagonist, Minister D. , is intelligent and cunning.
As poet and mathematician, he is capable of reasoning as well as analyzing, which aids him in alluding the authorities; however, as Dupin indicates to the narrator, if the Minister were a "mere mathematician, he could not have reasoned at all, and thus would have been at the mercy of the Prefect" (107). From the first moment Minister D. is mentioned in the story, Poe describes him in much the same way as he describes Dupin. While in the lady's bedroom "his lynx eye immediately perceives the paper, recognizes the handwriting of the address, observes the confusion of the personage addressed, and fathoms her secret" (98).
These powers of reasoning and intuition prove that the Minister is a worthy intellectual match for Dupin. Unlike the villains in the majority of Poe's stories, "Minister D. is fascinating to the chief of Police and Dupin, and his crime is charged with meanings that are not unequivocally villainous" (Woletich-Brin berg 158). The scene in which Minister D steals the letter, which could compromise the integrity of its owner, introduces the story's conflict.
Because the thief is identified in the beginning of the story, the suspense is developed not through the mystery of who the criminal is, but through the interest generated in the discovery and retrieval of the hidden letter. At first the Prefect is employed to find the stolen document. During a visit to Dupin's apartment he informs Dupin of his exhaustive search of the Minister's home; a team of police officers using state-of-the-art equipment meticulously searched every square inch of his dwelling, to no avail. After months of searching, Prefect G. informs Dupin "I am not more sure that I breathe than I am that the letter is not at the Hotel" (102). Before leaving his company, the Prefect gives Dupin an accurate description of the letter, indicating to the reader that it has now become Dupin's investigation.
A month later, when the Prefect returns to Dupin's home, he is "absolutely thunder-stricken" to learn of Dupin's possession of the missing document. After writing a check for fifty thousand francs in return for the letter, he scrambles for the door and rushes off without saying a word. When he is gone, Dupin begins to explain how he came to be in possession of the secreted letter. The climax of the story takes place when Dupin narrates to the narrator the events that took place upon his visits to the home of Minister D.
It is in this scene that Dupin clearly takes pleasure in duping his opponent. Knowing the Minister well, Dupin "became satisfied that, to conceal this letter, the Minister had resorted to the comprehensive and sagacious expedient of not attempting to conceal it at all" (110). Operating under this theory, Dupin quickly identifies the altered letter lying conspicuously in a card rack. His covert plan of "forgetting" his snuffbox, creating a facsimile of the letter, and choreographing the following days disturbance, allows him to replace the letter with a fraudulent recreation; Much in the same manner as its original purloining from the rightful owner.
In the end, Minister D. is unknowingly stripped of the power of blackmail over the "personage of most exalted station", and Dupin is left to revel in the joy of revenge, and pride. Throughout the story, Poe skillfully uses the literary techniques of foreshadowing and symbolism. The repeated use of these two techniques crafts the story into a technical, as well as a literal, tale of mystery, requiring the reader to decipher clues planted in the text.
The technique of foreshadowing can be found in three key scenes. First is the scene of Prefect G.'s initial visit to Dupin's home. Here, Dupin offers his input to the baffled police officer by remarking that the mystery's "simplicity" is a "little too plain... a little too self-evident" (97).
Jeffrey Myers believes this is "blatant foreshadowing" noting "later, Dupin finds the letter in plain sight, manifestly self-evident" (16). A second example of foreshadowing occurs during Dupin explanation to his friend as to how he retrieved the purloined letter. He makes a reference to store signs and street placards. Dupin contends such signs that have large letters "escape observation by dint of being excessively obvious" (110). Such was the location of the letter in Minister D.'s card rack. A third, and final, example of foreshadowing is apparent upon the Prefects "speechless and motionless" response to having learned of Dupin's possession of the letter.
J. Gerald Kennedy reasons that the Prefect "seems to have been struck dead, a fate prefigured in the story's opening scene when the prefect responds to the suggestion that the mystery is "a little too self-evident" by declaring: "Oh, Dupin, you will be the death of me yet" (125). As with foreshadowing, there are also three examples of Poe's use of symbolism. Throughout the story, Poe creates a sense that Dupin and Minister D. have similar characteristics, and according to Tony Magistrale, "Even the choice of the letter "D" to begin the Minister's last name is meant to suggest his close connection- perhaps "doubling" is even more accurate- to Dupin" (118). The opening scene of the story gives the reader a second example of symbolism.
In this scene Dupin and the narrator had been sitting in the dark prior to the arrival of the Prefect. "Dupin now arose for the purpose of lighting a lamp, but sat down again, without doing so, upon G.'s saying that he had called to consult us" (96). Dupin's decision to forego the lighting of the lamp symbolizes his desire to keep the Prefect in the dark; Dupin was not interested in enlightening the police officer. Also present in the opening scene is the third use of symbolism.
Here, the narrator and Dupin sit in silent meditation smoking their pipes, "while each, to any casual observer, might have seemed intently and exclusively occupied with the curling eddies of smoke that oppressed the atmosphere of the chamber" (96). Like the soiled letter plainly located in the Minister's card rack, this use of symbolism suggests the existence of a smokescreen that obscures what is evident. The failure of the police to find the purloined letter is the result of inductive, as opposed to deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning, by its nature, leads from one probability to the next, where deductive reasoning minimizes probabilities. It is Dupin's powers of deduction and his ability to identify with the inner psyche of the criminal mind that leads to the downfall of Minister D. , and the saving of the royal lady's reputation..