Study Guide

"The Purloined Letter" by Edgar Allan Poe in Poststructuralism

"The Purloined Letter" by Edgar Allan Poe

Poe's writings were translated into French by the poet Charles Baudelaire, who single-handedly established Poe's international reputation and made him readable by our two favorite Jacques, Lacan and Derrida. "The Purloined Letter" is the third and final tale in a trilogy of short detective stories—the first detective stories ever written in English, no less!

Well before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle started churning out the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Poe gave us the cigar-puffing, book-loving C. Auguste Dupin: super-brain extraordinaire. In this story, he helps track a compromising letter stolen from the Queen of France (not your typical private-eye client) and ingeniously figures out it's hidden right under everyone's nose.

Now, if we know anything about psychoanalysts, it's that they love to search for clues. You say there was a talking dog in your dream last night? Clue. You say you tried to say the word "bump" on your date last night but it came out "hump"? MEGA CLUE.

So it's no wonder Lacan took to "The Purloined Letter" like a dog to a bone. Not only is the story all about solving a tricky mystery through sheer cleverness and smarts, it's also full of all kinds of shady schemes and dirty dealings. And, most importantly, it tells us a little something about signification too. Hey, structuralists, are you paying attention?