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Themes

Are you smarter than a fictional Parisian detective from the early 1800s? If we're talking about Dupin, probably not. "The Purloined Letter" isn't so much a heart-pounding, nail-biting suspense story so much as it is an awfully wordy game of wits—and you're invited to play. Cleverness pits its power against sense, as the characters try to outthink, outsmart, and out-purloin each other. It's a never-ending puzzle that just gets more complicated the more you think about. Don't say we didn't warn you.

Questions About Cunning and Cleverness

  1. Do you think this story is clever? Is it so clever that fails to heed the warning of its epigraph? (See "What's Up With the Epigraph," if you missed out on that section.)
  2. Is Dupin full of wit, or is he really just full of hot air?
  3. Is it possible that G— is much more clever than the narrator and Dupin think he is? And if D— is so clever, why doesn't he suspect Dupin?
  4. What good does cleverness seem to do anyone in this story?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

"The Purloined Letter" mocks those who put too much emphasis on being clever.

Dupin's methodology suggests that imagination is an important element of wit.

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