Study Guide

The Murders in the Rue Morgue Foreignness and 'The Other'

By Edgar Allan Poe

Advertisement - Guide continues below

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.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue Foreignness and 'The Other' Study Group

Ask questions, get answers, and discuss with others.

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

This is a premium product

Please Wait...