The Murders in the Rue Morgue
by Edgar Allan Poe
The Murders in the Rue Morgue Cunning and Cleverness Quotes
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Coincidences ten times as remarkable as this (the delivery of the money, and murder committed within these days upon the party receiving it), happen to all of us every hour of our lives, without attracting even momentary notice. Coincidences, in general, are great stumbling-blocks in the way of that class of thinkers who have been educated to know nothing of the theory of probabilities -- that theory to which the most glorious objects of human research are indebted for the most glorious of illustration. In the present instance, had the gold been gone, the fact of its delivery three days before would have formed something more than a coincidence. It would have been corroborative of this idea of motive. But, under the real circumstances of the case, if we are to suppose gold the motive of this outrage, we must also imagine the perpetrator so vacillating an idiot as to have abandoned his gold and his motive altogether. (79)
The gold coins are the great red herrings of this story: they seem like the most obvious clue, they're distracting, and then they go nowhere. The inclusion of this detail signals how different objects are in a detective story than they are in other kinds of narratives. After all, in the classic plot it's supposed to be that a gun in the first act of a play has to be fired in the fifth. But in the detective narrative, it is the nature of the story that some details will wind up mattering and some won't; we won't know which is which until we've solved the case. So in a detective story, a gun in the first act or a bunch of francs on the floor might be key to solving the case, but they might mean nothing at all. This presents a different kind of intellectual challenge to the reader.
"Let him talk," said Dupin, who had not thought it necessary to reply. "Let him discourse; it will ease his conscience. I am satisfied with having defeated him in his own castle. Nevertheless, that he failed in the solution of this mystery, is by no means that matter for wonder which he supposes it; for, in truth, our friend the Prefect is somewhat too cunning to be profound. In his wisdom is no stamen. It is all head and no body, like the pictures of the Goddess Laverna -- or, at best, all head and shoulders, like a codfish. But he is a good creature after all. I like him especially for one master stroke of cant, by which he has attained his reputation for ingenuity. I mean the way he has `de nier ce qui est, et d'expliquer ce qui n'est pas.'" (123)
Why end this whole story with this last jab at the Prefect of Police's mind? Dupin has proved his point, he's found the killer – so why does he need to underline his own victory? Is this just arrogance for the sake of arrogance, or is there a larger purpose?