Study Guide

The Murders in the Rue Morgue Justice and Judgment

By Edgar Allan Poe

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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?

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