The story's narrator, Montresor, tells the story of the day that he took his revenge on Fortunato (Italian for "the fortunate one"), a fellow nobleman, to an unspecified person who knows him very well. Angry over numerous injuries and some unspecified insult, he plots to murder his friend during Carnival when the man is drunk, dizzy, and wearing a jester's motley.
Montresor lures Fortunato into a private wine-tasting excursion by telling him he has obtained a pipe (about 130 gallons, 492 litres) of what he believes to be a rare vintage of Amontillado. He mentions obtaining confirmation of the pipe's contents by inviting a fellow wine aficionado, Luchresi, for a private tasting.
Montresor knows Fortunato will not be able to resist demonstrating his discerning palate for wine and will insist that he taste the Amontillado rather than Luchresi who, as he claims, "cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry". Fortunato goes with Montresor to the wine cellars of the latter's palazzo, where they wander in the catacombs. Montresor offers wine (first Medoc, then De Grave) to Fortunato in order to keep him inebriated. Montresor warns Fortunato, who has a bad cough, of the damp, and suggests they go back; Fortunato insists on continuing, claiming that "[he] shall not die of a cough." During their walk, Montresor mentions his family coat of arms: a golden foot in a blue background crushing a snake whose fangs are embedded in the foot's heel, with the motto Nemo me impune lacessit ("No one attacks me with impunity").
At one point, Fortunato makes an elaborate, grotesque gesture with an upraised wine bottle. When Montresor appears not to recognize the gesture, Fortunato asks, "You are not of the masons?" Montresor says he is, and when Fortunato, disbelieving, requests a sign, Montresor displays a trowel he had been hiding. When they come to a niche, Montresor tells his victim that the Amontillado is within. Fortunato enters drunk and unsuspecting and therefore, does not resist as Montresor quickly chains him to the wall. Montresor then declares that, since Fortunato won't go back, Montresor must "positively leave" him there.
Montresor reveals brick and mortar, previously hidden among the bones nearby, and walls up the niche, entombing his friend alive. At first, Fortunato, who sobers up faster than Montresor anticipated he would, shakes the chains, trying to escape. Fortunato then screams for help, but Montresor mocks his cries, knowing nobody can hear them. Fortunato laughs weakly and tries to pretend that he is the subject of a joke and that people will be waiting for him (including the Lady Fortunato). As the murderer finishes the topmost row of stones, Fortunato wails, "For the love of God, Montresor!" to which Montresor replies, "Yes, for the love of God!" He listens for a reply but hears only the jester's bells ringing. Before placing the last stone, he drops a burning torch through the gap. He claims that he feels sick at heart, but dismisses this reaction as an effect of the dampness of the catacombs.
In the last few sentences, Montresor reveals that 50 years later, Fortunato's body still hangs from its chains in the niche where he left it. The murderer concludes: In pace requiescat! ("May he rest in peace!").
For forgiveness to occur, there must first be guilt and then atonement or remorse. Of course, there is no question of Montresor asking forgiveness of Fortunato, or reconciling with him, and no mention is given of Montresor's paying any reparations to Lady Fortunato. Atonement, if there is to be any, must be with God alone. At the time of the murder, however, Montresor hears and rejects Fortunato's appeal that he stop ''For the love of God, Montresor!'' The murderer replies, ''Yes, for the love of God!'' but he does not stop building his wall. Surely he does not mean that he is acting for the love of God; instead, he is blatantly and defiantly rejecting it. The story begins with the unnamed narrator arriving at the house of his friend, Roderick Usher, having received a letter from him in a distant part of the country complaining of an illness and asking for his help. As he arrives, the narrator notes a thin crack extending from the roof, down the front of the building and into the adjacent lake.
Although Poe wrote this short story before the invention of modern psychological science, Roderick's condition can be described according to its terminology. It includes a form of sensory overload known as hyperesthesia (hypersensitivity to textures, light, sounds, smells and tastes), hypochondria (an excessive preoccupation or worry about having a serious illness) and acute anxiety. It is revealed that Roderick's twin sister, Madeline, is also ill and falls into cataleptic, deathlike trances. The narrator is impressed with Roderick's paintings, and attempts to cheer him by reading with him and listening to his improvised musical compositions on the guitar. Roderick sings "The Haunted Palace", then tells the narrator that he believes the house he lives in to be alive, and that this sentience arises from the arrangement of the masonry and vegetation surrounding it.
Roderick later informs the narrator that his sister has died and insists that she be entombed for two weeks in the family tomb located in the house before being permanently buried. The narrator helps Roderick put the body in the tomb, and he notes that Madeline has rosy cheeks, as some do after death. They inter her, but over the next week both Roderick and the narrator find themselves becoming increasingly agitated for no apparent reason. A storm begins. Roderick comes to the narrator's bedroom, which is situated directly above the vault, and throws open his window to the storm. He notices that the tarn surrounding the house seems to glow in the dark, as it glowed in Roderick Usher's paintings, although there is no lightning.
The narrator attempts to calm Roderick by reading aloud The Mad Tryst, a novel involving a knight named Ethelred who breaks into a hermit's dwelling in an attempt to escape an approaching storm, only to find a palace of gold guarded by a dragon. He also finds, hanging on the wall, a shield of shining brass on which is written a legend:
Who entereth herein, a conqueror hath bin;
Who slayeth the dragon, the shield he shall win;
With a stroke of his mace, Ethelred kills the dragon, who dies with a piercing shriek, and proceeds to take the shield, which falls to the floor with an unnerving clatter.
As the narrator reads of the knight's forcible entry into the dwelling, cracking and ripping sounds are heard somewhere in the house. When the dragon is described as shrieking as it dies, a shriek is heard, again within the house. As he relates the shield falling from off the wall, a reverberation, metallic and hollow, can be heard. Roderick becomes increasingly hysterical, and eventually exclaims that these sounds are being made by his sister, who was in fact alive when she was entombed. Additionally, Roderick somehow knew that she was alive. The bedroom door is then blown open to reveal Madeline standing there. She falls on her brother, and both land on the floor as corpses. The narrator then flees the house, and, as he does so, notices a flash of moonlight behind him which causes him to turn back, in time to see the moon shining through the suddenly widened crack. As he watches, the House of Usher splits in two and the fragments sink into the tarn. "The Fall of the House of Usher" addresses the nature and causes of evil. Poe creates an atmosphere of evil in the story through the unnamed narrator's descriptions of the Usher family home, and of Roderick and Madeline. For example, the house is called a "mansion of gloom"; Roderick is described as having "a ghastly pallor of the skin" and hair of "wild gossamer texture"; and Madeline, who the narrator sees only briefly before she dies, stirs up feelings of dread. Although the narrator is unsettled, shocked, and taken aback by his surroundings from the very beginning of the story, it is not clear what is causing such trepidation. When Roderick attempts to explain the cause of his ''nervous agitation," he states that it is "a constitutional and family evil," suggesting that he and Madeline are somehow cursed. Some have speculated that the evil behind this "curse" is a long history of incest or family inbreeding within the Usher line and that both Roderick and Madeline are suffering the physical and emotional consequences of behavior almost universally condemned as immoral. Others, however, have stated that the evil permeating the story is of purely supernatural origin and that Roderick's hysteria is not imagined but is a justifiable reaction to otherworldly forces.
The atmosphere of terror in the story is heightened by the ambiguity of Madeline's character— she can be viewed with sympathy, because of her illness, or with suspicion. Some critics have even suggested that she is a vampire attempting to sap the life force from Roderick. The narrator also heightens the aura of evil in "The Fall of the House of Usher'' because while he tries to view the situation objectively and rationally, despite his increasing feelings of foreboding, he ultimately succumbs to the evil pervading the Usher home. Some critics have, in fact, stated that the narrator himself is evil and that he, along with Roderick, knowingly buried Madeline alive and that he is deliberately trying to deceive the reader about what happened.
The themes of madness and insanity grow from Poe's depiction of Roderick's increasingly unstable mental and emotional breakdown. Roderick is afflicted with numerous mysterious maladies. He suffers, as the narrator states, from "a morbid acuteness of the senses," and he is overwhelmed by feelings of fear and anxiety. Roderick's agitated mental state is also due, in part, to Madeline's fatal illness, which causes her to become cataleptic—a state of extreme muscle rigidity and apparent unconsciousness. As the story progresses, Roderick attempts to relate his fear to the narrator and engages in numerous activities—including playing the guitar, creating a disturbing painting, and composing a lyric entitled "The Haunted Palace"—in an attempt to calm himself. He also reads books on the supernatural and the occult. As Roderick becomes increasingly hysterical, both the narrator and the reader are left to speculate on the causes of such strange behavior. It remains unclear, however, if Roderick's malady is a psychological reaction to an incestual relationship with his sister or if he is, indeed, being possessed by evil forces. Nevertheless, Poe's portrayal of Roderick's deterioration raises important questions about the causes, stages, and effects of insanity. The story is told by a unnamed narrator who describes the qualities of Ligeia: a beautiful, passionate and intellectual woman, raven-haired and dark-eyed. He thinks he remembers meeting her "in some large, old decaying city near the Rhine." He is unable to recall anything about the history of Ligeia, including her family's name, but remembers her beautiful appearance. Her beauty, however, is not conventional. He describes her as emaciated, with some "strangeness." He describes her face in detail, from her "faultless" forehead to the "divine orbs" of her eyes. They marry, and Ligeia impresses her husband with her immense knowledge of physical and mathematical science, and her proficiency in classical languages. She begins to show her husband her knowledge of metaphysical and "forbidden" wisdom.
After an unspecified length of time Ligeia becomes ill, struggles internally with human mortality, and ultimately dies. The narrator, grief-stricken, buys and refurbishes an abbey in England. He soon enters into a loveless marriage with "the fair-haired and blue-eyed Lady Rowena Trevanion, of Tremaine."
In the second month of the marriage, Rowena begins to suffer from worsening fever and anxiety. One night, when she is about to faint, the narrator pours her a goblet of wine. Drugged with opium, he sees (or thinks he sees) drops of "a brilliant and ruby colored fluid" fall into the goblet. Her condition rapidly worsens, and a few days later she dies and her body is wrapped for burial.
As the narrator keeps vigil overnight, he notices a brief return of color to Rowena's cheeks. She repeatedly shows signs of reviving, before relapsing into apparent death. As he attempts resuscitation, the revivals become progressively stronger, but the relapses more final. As dawn breaks, and the narrator is sitting emotionally exhausted from the night's struggle, the shrouded body revives once more, stands and walks into the middle of the room. When he touches the figure, its head bandages fall away to reveal masses of raven hair and dark eyes: Rowena has transformed into Ligeia.
And the chin, with its dimples, as in health, might it not be hers? - but had she then grown taller since her malady? What inexpressible madness seized me with that thought? One bound, and I had reached her feet! Shrinking from my touch, she let fall from her head, unloosened, the ghastly cerements which had confined it, and there streamed forth, into the rushing atmosphere of the chamber, huge masses of long and disheveled hair; it was blacker than the raven wings of the midnight! And now slowly opened the eyes of the figure which stood before me. "Here then, at least," I shrieked aloud, "can I never - can I never be mistaken - these are the full, and the black, and the wild eyes - of my lost love - of the lady - of the LADY LIGEIA." (29)
Even in the most bizarre of moments, it's a small perception, a tiny observation (the too-tallness of Rowena) that clues the narrator into what's to come. It just goes to show you how committed Poe is to details - another writer might have focused on something more obvious, like, say, a big old scar. Instead, here we really see how vividly the narrator remembers his dead wife.
The story surrounds the baffling double murder of Madame L'Espanaye and her daughter in the Rue Morgue, a fictional street in Paris. Newspaper accounts of the murder reveal that the mother's throat is so badly cut that her head is barely attached and the daughter, after being strangled, has been stuffed into the chimney. The murder occurs in an inaccessible room on the fourth floor locked from the inside. Neighbors who hear the murder give contradictory accounts, each claiming that he heard the murderer speaking a different language. The speech was unclear; the witnesses say and they admit to not knowing the language they are claiming to have heard.
Paris natives Dupin and his friend, the unnamed narrator of the story, read these newspaper accounts with interest. The two live in seclusion and allow no visitors. They have cut off contact with "former associates" and venture outside only at night. "We existed within ourselves alone", the narrator explains. When a man named Adolphe Le Bon has been imprisoned though no evidence exists pointing to his guilt, Dupin is so intrigued that he offers his services to "G-", the prefect of police.
Because none of the witnesses can agree on the language the murderer spoke, Dupin concludes they were not hearing a human voice at all. He finds a hair at the scene of the murder that is quite unusual; "this is no human hair", he concludes. Dupin puts an advertisement in the newspaper asking if anyone has lost an "Ourang-Outang". The ad is answered by a sailor who comes to Dupin at his home. The sailor offers a reward for the orangutan's return; Dupin asks for all the information the sailor has about the murders in the Rue Morgue. The sailor reveals that he had been keeping a captive orangutan obtained while ashore in Borneo. The animal escaped with the sailor's shaving straight razor. When he pursued the orangutan, it escaped by scaling a wall and climbing up a lightning rod, entering the apartment in the Rue Morgue through a window.
Once in the room, the surprised Madame L'Espanaye could not defend herself as the orangutan attempted to shave her in imitation of the sailor's daily routine and in doing so accidentally slits the woman's throat with the razor. The bloody deed incited it to fury and it squeezed the daughter's throat until she died. The orangutan then became aware of its master's whip, which it feared, and it attempted to hide the body by stuffing it into the chimney. The sailor, aware of the "murder", panicked and fled, allowing the orangutan to escape. The prefect of police, upon hearing this story, mentions that people should mind their own business. Dupin responds that G- is "too cunning to be profound".
The analytical power should not be confounded with simple ingenuity; for while the analyst is necessarily ingenious, the ingenious man is often remarkably incapable of analysis. The constructive or combining power, by which ingenuity is usually manifested, and to which the phrenologists (I believe erroneously) have assigned a separate organ, supposing it a primitive faculty, has been so frequently seen in those whose intellect bordered otherwise upon idiocy, as to have attracted general observation among writers on morals. Between ingenuity and the analytic ability there exists a difference far greater, indeed, than that between the fancy and the imagination, but of a character very strictly analogous. It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic. (3)
The narrator often expresses an interest in overcoming the apparent divide between reason and creativity. But one thing missing from this combination is emotion and empathy. What value, if any, do feelings have in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"?
When we think "detective story," we think of something like Law and Order: SVU or The Mentalist or Cold Case, where the point is to put together all the clues to catch the perpetrator before he can kill again. Those stories are all about judgment. Society can't tolerate a killer in its midst, so we have the police (or the psychic, or the medical examiner, depending on the franchise) track down evildoers.
We don't know if it's because Poe wrote the first detective story or what, but "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" isn't really like that. By choosing a non-human killer, Poe neatly sidesteps the question of "justice" (because an Ourang-Outang isn't going to learn any better). And Dupin himself is not particularly interested in figuring out the case until a gentleman's obligation comes into it. In other words, he has his own code of honor, but he's not doing this for abstract reasons like protecting society or upholding the law. Neutralizing the question of justice gives Poe more of a license to turn his story into a puzzle. There's no strictly moral lesson to be learned here, unless it's that creativity is good and leaving your windows open and lights on at 3am is bad.
The fury of the beast, who no doubt bore still in mind the dreaded whip, was instantly converted into fear. Conscious of having deserved punishment, it seemed desirous of concealing its bloody deeds, and skipped about the chamber in an agony of nervous agitation; throwing down and breaking the furniture as it moved, and dragging the bed from the bedstead. In conclusion, it seized first the corpse of the daughter, and thrust it up the chimney, as it was found; then that of the old lady, which it immediately hurled through the window headlong. (120)
The ape feels pain, fear, fun, anger - what differentiates him from human beings? Why is he beyond justice and punishment? How would our expectations of justice in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" change if the killer were a human instead of an animal?
The narrator of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" is a stranger in a strange land, a man of unknown nationality visiting Paris. While he and Dupin are bonded, he nevertheless often describes Dupin specifically as a Frenchman. The testimony with regard to the murder case arising from the neighbors in the Quartier St. Roch is similarly nationally marked. There's a bunch of French, English, Italian, and Dutch people, all presumably sharing a neighborhood. While Paris is the capital of France, it also comes across, in this story, as the capital of the world, with all kinds of people living side by side. There's no sense of rootedness or unified national culture to be found in the midst of this thriving urban setting.
In such a dense city space, you expect misunderstandings to come up. And they do, literally. None of the witnesses can agree on the language that they hear spoken over their heads as they race into the house in the Rue Morgue, but they all think it's a foreign language. In a neighborhood in which many nationalities of people exist cheek by jowl, there's still one boundary that's maintained absolutely: the animal remains foreign. In other words, whatever his or her nation of origin, everyone in Paris is connected by their common status as reasoning, rational human beings. What needs to be excluded to keep up this status quo is the irrational emotionalism of the Ourang-Outang.
"That was the evidence itself," said Dupin, "but it was not the peculiarity of the evidence. You have observed nothing distinctive. Yet there was something to be observed. The witnesses, as you remarked, agreed about the gruff voice; they were here unanimous. But in regard to the shrill voice, the peculiarity is -- not that they disagreed -- but that, while an Italian, an Englishman, a Spaniard, a Hollander, and a Frenchman attempted to describe it, each one spoke of it as that of a foreigner. Each is sure that it was not the voice of one of his own countrymen. (65)
What a diverse group lives in the Quartier St. Roch. The interesting thing is here, that with such a profusion of nationalities, there's a much greater variety of testimony than there would be if "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" were set in a small town. At the same time, the technologies of circulation that allow this kind of diversity - boats, trains, etc. - also bring in a totally unexpected threat from outside: the Ourang-Outang. So it's the condition of living in the city that brings together so many people, but that also leaves them vulnerable to the unknown.
The narrator of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" is upfront about his own personal tastes, and when we say upfront, we mean it literally. He spends the first several paragraphs of his story expressing his admiration for certain kinds of thinking, which he finds in his pal Dupin. We sit back and watch him express his awe at the man's genius the first few times and we think that he's justifying why he has selected Dupin as the protagonist of his story. Fair enough. And when he spends whole pages on one chain of reasoning from a fruit-seller to Chantilly the actor, we think, well, maybe this is getting a bit heavy with the hero worship, but we can deal. But as the story goes on and the narrator meets every new thing Dupin says with "mute astonishment" or "this is beyond my comprehension," we start to wonder why expressions of amazement are so important to this story.
There are a couple of things that this "awe" might be doing. First, the narrator's astonishment gives a plot-level reason for why Dupin needs to talk through his solutions carefully and slowly. Second, it signals to we, the readers, that we're supposed to be similarly in awe of what Dupin is doing. And third, it increases the suspense. The gap between the narrator's understanding and Dupin's keeps us on edge, as we wonder what Dupin knows that the narrator does not know.
"How was it possible," I asked, "that you should know the man to be a sailor, and belonging to a Maltese vessel?"
"I do not know it," said Dupin. "I am not sure of it. Here, however, is a small piece of ribbon, which from its form, and from its greasy appearance, has evidently been used in tying the hair in one of those long queues of which sailors are so fond. Moreover, this knot is one which few besides sailors can tie, and is peculiar to the Maltese. (97-98)
So it's not all just reasoning. The narrator's amazement draws out evidence that Dupin needs supplemental knowledge to make his claims, knowledge like this bit about Maltese knots. In the midst of the narrator's points about different kinds of human intelligence, where does sheer knowledge fit in?
The Prefect says that he and his police detectives have searched the Ministerial hotel where D— stays and have found nothing. They checked behind the wallpaper and under the carpets. His men have examined the tables and chairs with magnifying glasses and then probed the cushions with needles but have found no sign of interference; the letter is not hidden in these places. Dupin asks the Prefect if he knows what he is seeking and the Prefect reads off a minute description of the letter, which Dupin memorizes. The Prefect then bids them good day.
A month later, the Prefect returns, still bewildered in his search for the missing letter. He is motivated to continue his fruitless search by the promise of a large reward, recently doubled, upon the letter's safe return, and he will pay 50,000 francs to anyone who can help him. Dupin asks him to write that check now and he will give him the letter. The Prefect is astonished, but knows that Dupin is not joking. He writes the check and Dupin produces the letter. The Prefect determines that it is genuine and races off to deliver it to the victim.
Alone together, the narrator asks Dupin how he found the letter. Dupin explains the Paris police are competent within their limitations, but have underestimated with whom they are dealing. The Prefect mistakes the Minister D— for a fool, because he is a poet. For example, Dupin explains how an eight-year-old boy made a small fortune from his friends at a game called "Odds and Evens". The boy was able to determine the intelligence of his opponents and play upon that to interpret their next move. He explains that D— knew the police detectives would have assumed that the blackmailer would have concealed the letter in an elaborate hiding place, and thus hid it in plain sight.
Dupin says he had visited the minister at his hotel. Complaining of weak eyes he wore a pair of green spectacles, the true purpose of which was to disguise his eyes as he searched for the letter. In a cheap card rack hanging from a dirty ribbon, he saw a half-torn letter and recognized it as the letter of the story's title.
Striking up a conversation with D— about a subject in which the minister is interested, Dupin examined the letter more closely. It did not resemble the letter the Prefect described so minutely; the writing was different and it was sealed not with the "ducal arms" of the S— family, but with D—'s monogram. Dupin noticed that the paper was chafed as if the stiff paper was first rolled one way and then another. Dupin concluded that D— wrote a new address on the reverse of the stolen one, re-folded it the opposite way and sealed it with his own seal.
Dupin left a snuff box behind as an excuse to return the next day. Striking up the same conversation they had begun the previous day, D— was startled by a gunshot in the street. While he went to investigate, Dupin switched D—'s letter for a duplicate.
Dupin explains that the gunshot distraction was arranged by him and that he left a duplicate letter to ensure his ability to leave the hotel without D— suspecting his actions. If he had tried to seize it openly, Dupin surmises D— might have had him killed. As a political supporter of the Queen and old enemy of the Minister, Dupin also hopes that D— will try to use the power he no longer has, to his political downfall, and at the end be presented with an insulting note that implies Dupin was the thief: Un dessein si funeste, S'il n'est digne d'Atrée, est digne de Thyeste (If such a sinister design isn't worthy of Atreus, it is worthy of Thyestes).
The hallmark of "The Purloined Letter" is its use of abstract logic by C. Auguste Dupin. The story is one of what Poe called his "tales of ratiocination," which employed reason—rather than horror, as in many other Poe stories—as a narrative tool. Dupin, who also solves the cases in some of Poe's other tales of ratiocination, is a detective who uses deductive reasoning to solve the case of the stolen letter.
In the story, Dupin relies on what he knows of the situation to deduce the correct hiding spot of the letter. Dupin's reasoning is based on three factors: what he knows of the Prefect's behavior and thought processes; what he knows of the Minister's behavior and thought processes; and what he knows of human nature in general.
As Dupin explains to the narrator, he knows, both from recent conversations with the Prefect and from past knowledge, that the Prefect follows "principles of search, which are based upon the one set of notions regarding human ingenuity" to which the Prefect was accustomed. Dupin notes that the Prefect has "taken it for granted that all men proceed to conceal a letter.... in some out-of-the-way hole." In the Prefect's experience, when somebody wants to hide something, they go to great pains to hide it in a secret compartment or some other hidden area, thinking they are clever. In the past, the Prefect has found many of these compartments, so he assumes that he will do so again. When Dupin tells the Prefect "to make a thorough research of the premises," the Prefect does not understand that Dupin is referring to the obvious ones, and once again looks for the letter in a secret compartment in which a letter might be hidden.
Dupin also knows, given his knowledge of the Minister and his habits, that the Minister is a very clever person. Dupin correctly deduces that the Minister must have known about "the secret investigations of his premises," and that if he left his home every night and made it easier for them to search, they would eventually come to "the conviction that the letter was not upon the premises." Furthermore, as Dupin deduces, the Minister has seen that the police would rely on tried-and-true search methods, and that the Minister "would be driven, as a matter of course, to simplicity, if not deliberately induced to it as a matter of choice."
The final clue that Dupin uses to figure out where the letter is hidden is his knowledge of human nature, something in which he knows the Minister is also well versed. As Dupin explains to the narrator, some items can "escape observation by dint of being excessively obvious." In his example, Dupin relates a game that is played with a map. The object of the game is to have one's opponent find a specific word somewhere within the map. As Dupin notes, "a novice in the game generally seeks to embarrass his opponents by giving them the most minutely lettered names." Like the Prefect, these novices think they can beat their opponent by focusing on obscurity. However, as Dupin says, "the adept selects such words as stretch, in large characters, from one end of the chart to the other." When someone is specifically looking for something obscure, that person will miss obvious items that do not fit the profile of the search.
Although it is Dupin's form of deductive logic—which is bound only by the factors in the particular case--that solves the case, the Prefect also uses logic. However, the Prefect's brand of logic is bound by his past experience—in this case, the investigative methods that normally bring him success.
The Prefect gives an exhaustive inventory of these methods, many of which rely on rational, scientific methods of thought. When speaking of the Minister's home, he says, "we divided its entire surface into compartments, which we numbered, so that none might be missed." Within each of these precise areas of searching, they used a "powerful microscope" on such items as chairs and tables, in an attempt to find any hidden compartments. "There is a certain amount of bulk—of space—to be accounted for in every cabinet. Then we have accurate rules. The fiftieth part of a line could not escape us." In other words, by comparing an object's exterior dimensions to the actual interior space that can be seen, the Prefect and the police can determine whether there is any extra space—a hidden compartment.
The Prefect's methods are so scientific and precise that he claims that even small signs would tip them off. "A single grain of gimlet-dust, for example, would have been as obvious as an apple." Of course, as Dupin suggests at the beginning, "it is the very simplicity of the thing" that thwarts the Prefect, who thinks he has "investigated every nook and corner of the premises in which it is possible that the paper can be concealed." However, in this instance the Prefect's methods are useless, because they only take into account "secret" areas, and ignore the obvious areas.
The reason for the letter's theft is political in nature. The Minister, a political opponent of the Queen's, steals the letter, and holds it hostage. As the Prefect notes, "the power thus attained has, for some months, been wielded, for political purposes, to a very dangerous extent." Although the contents of the letter are never explained, it is noted that it could be particularly damaging to the royal family. Dupin, who is an acquaintance of the Minister, is also a political ally of the Queen. As he tells the narrator, "You know my political prepossessions. In this matter, I act as a partisan of the lady concerned." This is one of the main reasons why Dupin is willing to get involved with the case and help find the letter.
A savvy political player himself, Dupin knows that if he can take the letter without the Minister realizing it—replacing it with a fake—he can spin the situation to his advantage and bring about the Minister's political downfall. As Dupin notes, the Minister, "being unaware that the letter is not in his possession, will proceed with his exactions as if it was." In other words, by trying to blackmail the Queen with the fake letter, the Minister will assume that the Queen will do his bidding, and will undertake the same kinds of daring schemes he has been doing for the past eighteen months, which he would not do without protection of the letter. This action will lead, as Dupin notes, "to his political destruction." Dupin says of this downfall, that, "in the present instance I have no sympathy—at least no pity—for him who descends." In Dupin's mind, the Minister is an "unprincipled man of genius," who deserves harsh punishment for his political transgressions.
If you've ever frantically hit "undo send" after shooting off an email, you know powerful an incriminating letter—or text, or email—can be. In "The Purloined Letter," whoever has the words has the power, whether it's used for money, political gain, or just sheer control. By tracing the letter's movements in the story, we can trace the shifting flow of power. In fact, maybe we can even read "The Purloined Letter" as a study in the abuse of power. Except for possibly the royal man, all the characters (including the narrator) use their power for their own personal, political, or financial agendas. Like many other Poe poems including "The Raven", "Ulalume", and "To One in Paradise", "Annabel Lee" follows Poe's favorite theme: the death of a beautiful woman, which Poe called "the most poetical topic in the world". Like women in many other works by Poe, she is struck with illness and marries young. The poem focuses on an ideal love which is unusually strong. In fact, the narrator's actions show that he not only loves Annabel Lee, but he worships her, something he can only do after her death. The narrator admits that he and Annabel Lee were children when they fell in love, but his explanation that angels murdered her is in itself childish, suggesting he has not matured much since then. His repetition of this assertion suggests he is trying to rationalize his own excessive feelings of loss.
Unlike "The Raven", in which the narrator believes he will "nevermore" be reunited with his love, "Annabel Lee" says the two will be together again, as not even demons "can ever dissever" their souls.
Readers are urged by the tone and setting of this poem to question how well the speaker actually remembers his relationship with his dead lover. From the very first line, the speaker admits that he is talking about things that happened "many and many years ago." Repeating the word "many" emphasizes the amount of time that has passed since Annabel Lee's death. This encourages readers' suspicions, since memories, especially extremely pleasant memories, are often idealized versions of reality. In the third stanza, the poem makes a point of mentioning once more that there is a considerable distance of time between the events being described and the speaker as he is recalling them. It becomes even more difficult to believe that his brief, youthful love affair could have been as pure and beautiful as he describes it. If his claim was that a recent love had died because of angels' jealousy, or that he thought every day about a lover who died the year before, then his obsession could be attributed to strong but normal grief. With the distance of time indicated here, though, there has to be a strong possibility that he is not actually responding to the love affair that he lived, but instead to a false, inflated memory of Annabel Lee.
The sea is used here as a poetic device to represent memory. It is linked to the life the speaker had with Annabel Lee because they lived together in a kingdom next to it. It is linked to her death, as he makes a point of mentioning twice in the last two lines that her body is put to rest beside the sea. As a vast, mysterious force, a traditional place of enigma and danger, the sea is a fitting symbol to represent the past, which is as attractive to the speaker as the sea is to those who sail it. In line 31 he speculates that the demons who might come to disrupt his memory of Annabel Lee—who might "dissever" his soul from hers—lurk under the sea.
Like many of Edgar Allan Poe's short stories and poems, "Annabel Lee" concerns itself with the human problem of having to carry on and make sense of the world after the permanent disruption that death causes. In this particular case, the speaker of the poem is so distraught over his loss that he bends reality to find a cause for her death that his mind can accept. Readers are not given a physical, medical explanation for her death, other than that a "chill" came down upon her, because in his mind mere physics would be too simple to destroy a grand love like the one he remembers. The explanation that is offered instead is that the angels envied the young couple's happiness and, most uncharacteristically for angels, killed her out of jealousy. For the narrator, this explanation makes sense of the randomness of disease and death by providing a culprit; he needs this in order to accept the idea that his love might not have been great enough to stop death. In fact, he cannot accept death as a separation from the girl he loved, but believes that they are still linked, which may be true for him in a psychological sense, although there is no way of knowing if the deceased, wherever she may be, might also feel this way. The situation related in this poem is real more in a psychological sense than in any other sense, and this makes death (which is an absolute, unchangeable limit in the real world) serve as an appropriate tool for Poe's type of writing. The speaker of this poem presents himself as an underdog, struggling throughout his entire love affair against those who attempt to use their superior social positions against him. At first, the speaker implies that the world looked down on his relationship with Annabel Lee because they were both children, making a point of emphasizing she and I to show their common bond against the opposition, presumably from adults. If, as most critics agree, this poem is based upon Poe's relationship with his cousin Virginia Clemm, then he has altered the facts here to fit this theory of opposition: even if Virginia was only thirteen when they married, Poe himself was twenty-seven. By presenting himself as a child, he puts himself and Annabel Lee on one side and the adult world on the other. Later in the poem, there is opposition from the angels, who are jealous because the young couple has more happiness than they themselves have in heaven. The angels, obviously from a higher and more privileged class than a couple of children on Earth, have killed Annabel Lee, the narrator says. After Annabel Lee's death, her body was taken away by "her high-born kinsmen." Although it is not directly stated, the implication here is that the speaker is prohibited from visiting his deceased love or from participating in her funeral because of class distinctions. The love affair in this poem is opposed by forces more powerful—adults, angels, and the upper social class. The endurance of the youngsters' love against all of these is a testament to its strength. "The Raven" follows an unnamed narrator on a dreary night in December who sits reading "forgotten lore" by a dying fire  as a way to forget the death of his beloved Lenore. A "tapping at [his] chamber door" reveals nothing, but excites his soul to "burning". The tapping is repeated, slightly louder, and he realizes it is coming from his window. When he goes to investigate, a raven flutters into his chamber. Paying no attention to the man, the raven perches on a bust of Pallas above the door.
Amused by the raven's comically serious disposition, the man asks that the bird tell him its name. The raven's only answer is "Nevermore". The narrator is surprised that the raven can talk, though at this point it has said nothing further. The narrator remarks to himself that his "friend" the raven will soon fly out of his life, just as "other friends have flown before" along with his previous hopes. As if answering, the raven responds again with "Nevermore". The narrator reasons that the bird learned the word "Nevermore" from some "unhappy master" and that it is the only word it knows.
Even so, the narrator pulls his chair directly in front of the raven, determined to learn more about it. He thinks for a moment in silence, and his mind wanders back to his lost Lenore. He thinks the air grows denser and feels the presence of angels, and wonders if God is sending him a sign that he is to forget Lenore. The bird again replies in the negative, suggesting that he can never be free of his memories. The narrator becomes angry, calling the raven a "thing of evil" and a "prophet". Finally, he asks the raven whether he will be reunited with Lenore in Heaven. When the raven responds with its typical "Nevermore", he is enraged, and, calling it a liar, commands the bird to return to the "Plutonian shore"—but it does not move. Presumably at the time of the poem's recitation by the narrator, the raven "still is sitting" on the bust of Pallas. The narrator's final admission is that his soul is trapped beneath the raven's shadow and shall be lifted "Nevermore".
Poe wrote the poem as a narrative, without intentionally creating an allegory or falling into didacticism. The main theme of the poem is one of undying devotion. The narrator experiences a perverse conflict between desire to forget and desire to remember. He seems to get some pleasure from focusing on loss. The narrator assumes that the word "Nevermore" is the raven's "only stock and store", and, yet, he continues to ask it questions, knowing what the answer will be. His questions, then, are purposely self-deprecating and further incite his feelings of loss. Poe leaves it unclear if the raven actually knows what it is saying or if it really intends to cause a reaction in the poem's narrator. The narrator begins as "weak and weary," becomes regretful and grief-stricken, before passing into a frenzy and, finally, madness. Christopher F. S. Maligec suggests the poem is a type of elegiac paraclausithyron, an ancient Greek and Roman poetic form consisting of the lament of an excluded, locked-out lover at the sealed door of his beloved. Near the end of this poem, when the fear of the poem's speaker has reached a level of near hysteria, he shouts "Leave my loneliness unbroken!" In one sense, this could just be an emotional outburst, like the lines that lead up to it, but the interesting thing about this particular line is that the speaker, in his terror, is for once reflecting upon himself. This, and the line's location at the climax of the poem, indicates to us that "my loneliness" is not just another expression that he shrieks: it is the key, the secret that he has been trying to guard all along. Throughout the poem, we see the speaker being drawn out of his isolation by the raven and the one word that it speaks. Once the bird enters his chambers, nothing really changes in the scene except the speaker's attitude, which grows increasingly nervous. And what is it that he fears? He says he fears that the bird is a messenger from hell and that it knows secrets of the afterlife that it will not give up, but the reader can see that these increasingly wild ideas are the result, not the cause, of his panic. It is just after he says that he wants to retain his loneliness that the pressure that had been mounting is finally relieved. The following stanza is mournful and eerie, but it lacks the fevered pitch that had been growing throughout the poem.
Usually, loneliness is considered such an unpleasant feeling that we could not expect someone to panic over the thought of losing it. In this case, we can assume that the speaker had such great love for Lenore that he prefers loneliness to the pain of being reminded of her. We can see this in the way her memory increases throughout the poem at the same time that the speaker is losing his composure, as if it takes concentration and control to suppress the thought of her. The strongest indication that he would rather be lonely than think of her comes in the second stanza, before the raven has arrived, when the speaker still has control of his thoughts (as best as he ever does): he introduces Lenore as "Nameless here for evermore."
This poem is not a meditation on death or a philosophical examination of how death affects the lives of those left behind in this world, but death is a crucial part of its existence. In order to establish the proper extreme of grief in the poem's speaker, he needs to be absolutely drained of any hope of seeing her again. Only death could provide such an absolute. As a plot device, this works fine, because the reader is assured that there is no way they could ever be reunited. The poem's weakness, though, is that the bald fact of death is not used to generate any new understanding. Grief is an honest, basic response to death, but Poe does not take it anywhere. The speaker does not think about his own death or life, nor about what his time with Lenore was like or whether her life was full and significant in the short time she did have: he just grieves and grieves and grieves. The reader would be right to question whether this is a realistic response to death, and whether in real life people do respond to death with such perpetual and chronic sorrow. It is a characteristic of Romanticism, the literary movement that Poe is associated with, to stretch a human emotion beyond the shape that we are familiar with in real life: beauties are stunning and unforgettable beauties, suffering is agony, and grief is uncontrollable. Death is one of the few things that cannot be fixed or reversed, and the enormity of it is therefore entirely appropriate for the exaggerated emotions in Poe's work. Literally, the supernatural world is not just the collection of strange things that we usually associate with it. It is a part of the world we live in that goes unrecognized by the five senses and is beyond the natural world that we experience (the prefix "super-" means "beyond"). This sense of the word is particular significant while analyzing this poem because it is based on the mixture of mind, nature, and supernatural. The raven is a dark, scary bird, but it is, after all, a natural object, and its behavior is completely natural: it beats against the shutters, and then, when it enters the room, flies up to perch on the highest object in the room, as birds usually do. The one place where the raven crosses the line between natural and supernatural is in being able to speak a word that a human is able to understand. "Nevermore" is so close to the raven's natural cry, though, and so close to what was in the mind of the poem's speaker just before he heard it, that it seems likely that his mind twisted the bird's natural sound into a word. From this beginning, we can examine all of the supernatural elements in this poem and question whether they are the cause of the speaker's terror or are caused by it, and in each case we find that devils, phantom fragrances, and soul-sucking shadows are only supernatural because he calls them supernatural. The question of the supernatural does not end here, however; this just broadens the scope. Poe clearly intends us to believe that the supernatural is fueled by the mind of the speaker, but that does not necessarily make it unreal. If the speaker's terror is real, does it matter whether the Tempter that caused it takes up physical space or exists only in his mind? To us who live in the real world, it might be a comfort to know that the demons live only in his mind, but in this poem, with its subjective point of view and no evidence except what one man sees, there is no difference between the natural and the supernatural. Generally, the essay introduces three of Poe's theories regarding literature. The author recounts this idealized process by which he says he wrote his most famous poem, "The Raven" to illustrate the theory, which is in deliberate contrast to the "spontaneous creation" explanation put forth, for example, by Coleridge as an explanation for his poem Kubla Khan. Poe's explanation of the process of writing is so rigidly logical, however, that some have suggested the essay was meant as a satire or hoax.
The three central elements of Poe's philosophy of composition are:
Poe believed that all literary works should be short. "There is", he writes, "a distinct limit... to all works of literary art - the limit of a single sitting." He especially emphasized this "rule" with regards to poetry, but also noted that the short story is superior to the novel for this reason.
Poe dismissed the notion of artistic intuition and argued that writing is methodical and analytical, not spontaneous. He writes that no other author has yet admitted this because most writers would "positively shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes... at the fully matured fancies discarded in despair... at the cautious selections and rejections".
"Unity of effect"
The essay states Poe's conviction that a work of fiction should be written only after the author has decided how it is to end and which emotional response, or "effect," he wishes to create, commonly known as the "unity of effect." Once this effect has been determined, the writer should decide all other matters pertaining to the composition of the work, including tone, theme, setting, characters, conflict, and plot. In this case, Poe logically decides on "the death... of a beautiful woman" as it "is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world, and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such topic are those of a bereaved lover." Some commentators have taken this to imply that pure poetry can only be attained by the eradication of female beauty. Biographers and critics have often suggested that Poe's obsession with this theme stems from the repeated loss of women throughout his life, including his mother Eliza Poe, his foster mother Frances Allan and, later, his wife Virginia.
In the essay, Poe traces the logical progression of his creation of "The Raven" as an attempt to compose "a poem that should suit at once the popular and the critical taste." He claims that he considered every aspect of the poem. For example, he purposely set the poem on a tempestuous evening, causing the raven to seek shelter. He purposefully chose a pallid bust to contrast with the dark plume of the bird. The bust was of Pallas in order to evoke the notion of scholar, to match with the presumed student narrator poring over his "volume[s] of forgotten lore." No aspect of the poem was an accident, he claims, but is based on total control by the author.
Even the term "Nevermore," he says, is based on logic following the "unity of effect." The sounds in the vowels in particular, he writes, have more meaning than the definition of the word itself. He had previously used words like "Lenore" for the same effect.
The raven itself, Poe says, is meant to symbolize Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. This may imply an autobiographical significance to the poem, alluding to the many people in Poe's life who had died.