Poe’s short story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” presents an example of a classic detective tale with an extraordinary detective and his faithful companion. It is possible that this story was a predecessor of the genre’s development, incorporating numerous signs of detective fiction that were and are still used in other novels (Rosenheim, 2014). One of these standard tokens is the character of the narrator, a friend of the detective and the main storyteller. Poe’s narrator remains nameless throughout the story. However, his relationship with the detective, Dupin, is central to the story’s progression. Dupin’s personality, actions, and thoughts are seen through the eyes of the narrator who presents the detective in a certain light by commenting on his every step. In this short story, the character of the narrator exists to highlight Dupin’s uniqueness and serve as a connection between the audience and the detective, being a spectator of all meaningful events.
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First of all, it is necessary to understand the purpose of such a character being a part of a detective story. In “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” the narrator exists to describe the events and to present them to the audience in an understandable way. While he recites the detective’s words and does not interpret them, he also adds his own commentary and describes Dupin’s actions. Moreover, he is the only person to be near the detective and act as his companion. Thus, his presence in the center of activity is purposeful to show the thinking process of the detective. If the short story would be presented from the position of Dupin, the audience would not hear any dialogue or would not be asked any questions about the crime. On the other hand, the interactions between the detective and the narrator consist of questions and detailed descriptions of the mystery.
Thus, the narrator adds a sense of familiarity to the story by acting as a representative of the audience. It is possible that he asks questions that a reader could ask in a similar situation. For instance, when the detective correctly recreates the narrator’s chain of thoughts, the latter asks how the detective came to this conclusion. The confusion shown by the narrator implies that the audience should be confused as well. Moreover, he creates a feeling of mystery that would otherwise be absent from the story.
The perception of the tale from a character who does not know the answer to the final question makes the narrative more enigmatic, revealing new information through the narrator’s interaction with other characters and other objects of this world. For example, by reading newspapers, the narrator recounts the events in full. Furthermore, by talking with Dupin, the narrator learns more information and gives it to the audience at the same time. Therefore, the audience learns new details simultaneously with the narrator and unravels the mystery at a similar pace.
The detective and the narrator spend a significant amount of time with each other that allows the latter to observe his companion. Thus, the narrator is able to explain to the audience how unusual and “genius” his friend is. Their interactions in the story are rather one-sided with the detective presenting new information and the narrator commenting on it or asking further questions. Dupin also asks the narrator questions. However, they are of a different nature and the difference is implied in the description of intonations.
The audience is able to understand that the narrator is genuinely confused when inquiring about the detective’s thoughts. Dupin, on the other hand, tries to lead his friend to the right answer with his questions. By asking the narrator such questions as “if I had observed anything peculiar at the scene of the atrocity,” the detective shows that he knows the answer to this question and wants his companion to guess (Poe, 1841, para. 35). Such interaction further strengthens the assumption that Dupin is smarter than the main character and possesses a unique talent for analytical thinking.
By becoming a representative of the audience, the narrator serves an important role of presenting Dupin’s personality and intellect as peculiar. The combination of the companion’s descriptions and thoughts make the readers more interested in the character of the detective who is deemed by the narrator as entertaining in the beginning of the story. The narrator also admires Dupin’s intellect and creates a positive image for him through descriptions of his passions and abilities. Moreover, the curious nature of the narrator and his close friendship with the detective become a source of interaction between the two men where Dupin is given a platform and time to explain his thought process in detail. Through the narrator, Poe is able to present his own approach to the induction method of thinking (Miranda, 2017).
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The presence of the narrator in the short story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” has multiple purposes. First of all, it serves as a reason for the detective to explain each step of his thinking process to the audience, making the analytical way of finding facts understandable. Second, the companion creates a sense of mystery because he allows the detective to reveal information slowly and reach the truth with leading questions and assumptions. Finally, the narrator’s thoughts highlight the unique and highly intelligent nature of the detective, making the latter more exciting and entertaining to follow.
Miranda, M. (2017). Reasoning through madness: The detective in Gothic crime fiction. Palgrave Communications, 3. Web.
Poe, E. A. (1841). The murders in the Rue Morgue. Web.
Rosenheim, S. (2014). Detective fiction, psychoanalysis, and the analytic sublime. In H. Bloom (Ed.), Edgar Allan Poe’s “The tell-tale heart” and other stories (pp. 81-103). New York, NY: Bloom’s Literary Criticism.