Study Guide

The Murders in the Rue Morgue Quotes

  • Cunning and Cleverness

    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"?

    "We must not judge of the means," said Dupin, "by this shell of an examination. The Parisian police, so much extolled for acumen, are cunning, but no more. There is no method in their proceedings, beyond the method of the moment. They make a vast parade of measures; but, not infrequently, these are so ill-adapted to the objects proposed, as to put us in mind of Monsieur Jourdain's calling for his robe-de-chambre — pour mieux entendre la musique. The results attained by them are not infrequently surprising, but for the most part, are brought about by simple diligence and activity. When these qualities are unavailing, their schemes fail. Vidocq, for example, was a good guesser, and the persevering man. But, without educated thought, he erred continually by the very intensity of his investigations. He impaired his vision by holding the object too close. He might see, perhaps, one or two points with unusual clearness, but in so doing he, necessarily, lost sight of the matter as a whole. Thus there is such a thing as being too profound." (52)

    (The reference to Monsieur Jourdain in the above passage is to a character in the satirist Molière's play The Bourgeois Gentleman. The line is: "Monsieur Jourdain's calling for his dressing gown — in order to better listen to the music.") Dupin gives the police credit for being hard-working and rational, and Vidocq (see "In a Nutshell") credit for being "a good guesser." But it's like Goldilocks and the Three Bears up in here: the police are too rational, Vidocq, too imaginative – and Dupin is just right (if he does say so himself). How are we supposed to take Dupin's arrogance and smugness? Does this influence how you feel about his character?

    "You will say that I was puzzled; but, if you think so, you must have misunderstood the nature of the inductions. To use a sporting phrase, I had not been once `at fault.' The scent had never for an instant been lost. There was no flaw in any link in the chain. I had traced the secret to its ultimate result, -- and that result was the nail. […] `There must be something wrong,' I said, `about the nail.' I touched it; and the head, with about a quarter of an inch of the shank, came off in my fingers. The rest of the shank was in the gimlet-hole, where it had been broken off. (72)

    We have here a small-scale example of the logic Dupin uses when he thinks "Ourang-Outang" and then interviews the sailor for evidence. Dupin has examined all of the other possible ways of entering and exiting the death room and found them to be impossible. Thus, he is certain that the killer(s) came in via the window. So he looks carefully at the nail to find that there is a broken nail. There's scientific method in this: Dupin presents a hypothesis and then goes out and gets proof.

    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?

  • Justice and Judgment

    The evening edition of the paper stated that the greatest excitement still continued in the quartier St. Roch -- that the premises in question had been carefully re-searched, and fresh examinations of witnesses instituted, but all to no purpose. A postscript, however, mentioned that Adolphe Le Bon had been arrested and imprisoned -- although nothing appeared to criminate him beyond the facts already detailed. (49)

    The arrest of Adolphe de Bon without evidence (nothing to "criminate" him) speaks to the problem of having a professional police force assigned to keep the peace. They're under pressure to look like they've made progress, so questions of right and wrong might not always come into their arrests. On the other hand, the private investigator – Dupin – has no such problems. He can pick and choose what he wants to focus on based on personal interest and obligation.

    "As for these murders, let us enter into some examinations for ourselves, before we make up an opinion respecting them. An inquiry will afford us amusement," [I thought this an odd term, so applied, but said nothing] "and besides, Le Bon once rendered me a service for which I am not ungrateful. We will go and see the premises with our own eyes. I know G -- -- , the Prefect of Police, and shall have no difficulty in obtaining the necessary permission." (53)

    Dupin gets more directly involved with the Rue Morgue murders because of a sense of obligation he feels towards Le Bon, but he is not governed by an abstract rule of justice for justice's sake. The exercise of his mind (i.e., "amusement") seems to be more important to him than seeking justice for the L'Espanaye women.

    "My friend," said Dupin, in a kind tone, "you are alarming yourself unnecessarily -- you are indeed. We mean you no harm whatever. I pledge you the honor of a gentleman, and of a Frenchman, that we intend you no injury. I perfectly well know that you are innocent of the atrocities in the Rue Morgue. It will not do, however, to deny that you are in some measure implicated in them. From what I have already said, you must know that I have had means of information about this matter -- means of which you could never have dreamed. Now the thing stands thus. You have done nothing which you could have avoided -- nothing, certainly, which renders you culpable. You were not even guilty of robbery, when you might have robbed with impunity. You have nothing to conceal. You have no reason for concealment. On the other hand, you are bound by every principle of honor to confess all you know. An innocent man is now imprisoned, charged with a crime of which you can point out the perpetrator." (113)

    Dupin appeals to the sailor to tell what the sailor knows based on "every principle of honor" rather than on right vs. wrong. It's also striking that Dupin spends so much time reassuring the sailor that he's innocent, when one might blame him for bringing a giant ape to a city and then locking it in a closet in the first place. Even so, the story never engages with the morality of the sailor's actions. Why might Poe himself find it useful to get questions of justice and judgment out of the way in "Murders in the Rue Morgue"? What reasons might he have for clearly avoiding the question of moral responsibility in this narrative?

    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?

  • Foreignness and 'The Other'

    It was a freak of fancy in my friend (for what else shall I call it?) to be enamored of the night for her own sake; and into this bizarrerie, as into all his others, I quietly fell; giving myself up to his wild whims with a perfect abandon. […] At the first dawn of the morning we closed all the massy shutters of our old building; lighted a couple of tapers which, strongly perfumed, threw out only the ghastliest and feeblest of rays. By the aid of these we then busied our souls in dreams -- reading, writing, or conversing, until warned by the clock of the advent of the true Darkness. Then we sallied forth into the streets, arm in arm, continuing the topics of the day, or roaming far and wide until a late hour. (8)

    We're going to spend most of our comments on this theme addressing the subject of nationality and the Ourang-Outang, but we also want to point out that Dupin and the narrator are creating their own nocturnal country of two. The ape has no choice about being an outsider, but these two consciously choose to exclude themselves from society. Why might outsider status benefit a logical detective like Dupin? And why does the narrator choose to follow Dupin's "wild whims with a perfect abandon"?

    "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.

    A Frenchman was cognizant of the murder. It is possible -- indeed it is far more than probable -- that he was innocent of all participation in the bloody transactions which took place. The Ourang-Outang may have escaped from him. He may have traced it to the chamber; but, under the agitating circumstances which ensued, he could never have recaptured it. It is still at large. (94)

    In spite of the fact that all of these different groups are being brought together in the story, there is still a bottom line of national identity. No matter how much the sailor circulates on his Maltese ship, no matter how many Ourang-Outangs he picks up, he's still a Frenchman rather than just a man. His nationality is so marked that the narrator can hear, from his accent, that the sailor was born in Paris and raised in Neufchâtel (in northwest France).

    What he stated was, in substance, this. He had lately made a voyage to the Indian Archipelago. A party, of which he formed one, landed at Borneo, and passed into the interior on an excursion of pleasure. Himself and a companion had captured the Ourang-Outang. This companion dying, the animal fell into his own exclusive possession. After great trouble, occasioned by the intractable ferocity of his captive during the home voyage, he at length succeeded in lodging it safely at his own residence in Paris, where, not to attract toward himself the unpleasant curiosity of his neighbors, he kept it carefully secluded, until such time as it should recover from a wound in the foot, received from a splinter on board ship. His ultimate design was to sell it. (116)

    The same thing that brings Madame L'Espanaye's Algiers metal spoons from North Africa to Paris also brings the ape that kills her: commerce. International trade both enriches Paris and threatens it, in ways that no one can predict.

    Returning home from some sailors' frolic on the night, or rather in the morning, of the murder, he found the beast occupying his own bedroom, into which it had broken from a closet adjoining, where it had been, as was thought, securely confined. Razor in hand, and fully lathered, it was sitting before a looking-glass, attempting the operation of shaving, in which it had no doubt previously watched its master through the keyhole of the closet. (117)

    We have to admit we feel a lot of sympathy for the Ourang-Outang here as the ultimate "Other" trying to fit in. He tries to mimic the habits of his master and gets whipped for his troubles.

  • Awe and Amazement

    The best chess-player in Christendom may be little more than the best player of chess; but proficiency in whist implies a capacity for success in all these more important undertakings where mind struggles with mind. When I say proficiency, I mean that perfection in the game which includes a comprehension of all the sources whence legitimate advantage may be derived. These are not only manifold, but multiform, and lie frequently among recesses of thought altogether inaccessible to the ordinary understanding. (2)

    The key to this ideal analytical/creative whist brain is that bit about the "[lying] frequently among recesses of thought altogether inaccessible to the ordinary understanding." What we have here is awe before the human mind itself, which can think, but which has trouble thinking about how it thinks. What makes Dupin so fabulous is that he is able (symbolically, at least) to meet and do battle with those "recesses of thought altogether inaccessible." After all, what is the Ourang-Outang if not a giant, ape-shaped symbol of our irrational, repressed instincts?

    "Dupin," said I, gravely, "this is beyond my comprehension. I do not hesitate to say that I am amazed, and can scarcely credit my senses. How was it possible you should know I was thinking of -- -- ?" Here I paused, to ascertain beyond a doubt whether he really knew of whom I thought. (14)

    Here it is, practically an engraved invitation to Dupin to spend about a page and a half on the amazing workings of his own mind. Without the encouragement of the narrator's astonishment and confusion, Dupin would have no plot-related reason to reveal his logic, and we'd have no story.

    "But it is by these deviations from the plane of the ordinary, that reason feels its way, if at all, in its search for the true. In investigations such as we are now pursuing, it should not be so much asked `what has occurred,' as `what has occurred that has never occurred before.' In fact, the facility with which I shall arrive, or have arrived, at the solution of this mystery, is in the direct ration of its apparent insolubility in the eyes of the police." I stared at the speaker in mute astonishment." (59-60)

    Not only are there two kinds of human mind according to Dupin, but there also appear to be two kinds of criminal cases: the obvious kind that the police are pretty good at, and the difficult kind that they can't seem to solve. It's exactly the irrationality of these murders that make Dupin so particularly suited to them. Which raises the question, what does Dupin do with the little questions of his everyday life? Does he stare fixedly at the narrator throughout the day trying to deduce, we don't know, what he had for breakfast?

    "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?

    "I don't mean that you should be at all this trouble for nothing, sir," said the man. "Couldn't expect it. Am very willing to pay a reward for the finding of the animal — that is to say, any thing in reason."

    "Well," replied my friend, "that is all very fair, to be sure. Let me think! — what should I have? Oh! I will tell you. My reward shall be this. You shall give me all the information in your power about these murders in the Rue Morgue.

    Dupin said the last words in a very low tone, and very quietly. Just as quietly, too, he walked toward the door, locked it, and put the key in his pocket. He then drew a pistol from his bosom and placed it, without the least flurry, upon the table. (111-113)

    Here, we see the effect of Dupin's sudden flights of insight on someone who isn't familiar with his methods. Dupin's insight strikes him like a blow: the sailor's face "flushed up as if he were struggling with suffocation." How does this physical response on the part of the sailor affect our own feelings about Dupin's genius? Are you impressed? Impatient? What is your reaction?