The Murders in the Rue Morgue Summary
"The Murders in the Rue Morgue" starts out with a proposition: there are two modes of untangling a problem. The first is that of the chess player, who looks at all the pieces on a board and decides, from the way everything is laid out, what to do next. The second is that of the whist player (whist, by the way, is like bridge, a game with four players that depends on working out what cards your opponents are holding). The whist player not only has to memorize the rules and moves of the game (like the chess player) but she also has to figure out, or deduce, from watching her fellow players, what cards they have. This kind of analysis takes both imagination and reason – and it's this kind of intelligence that we're supposed to see in this story. (Check out our "In a Nutshell" for more on Poe and "tales of ratiocination" to see why this argument is important.)
If you're looking for someone who has this whist-player-style analytical intelligence, look no further than our young, sarcastic protagonist, Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin, a Parisian gentleman fallen on hard times. Dupin's love of detecting leads him to a case that both the newspapers and the police themselves have declared unsolvable: the murders in the Rue Morgue (a.k.a. Morgue Street).
Here's what we know about this unsolvable case: In the middle of the night, the neighborhood of Quartier St. Roch is awakened by a series of screams coming from a house on the Rue Morgue. A bunch of concerned neighbors and policemen pry open the front door of the house. As they run up the stairs, they hear sounds of struggle and two weird voices, one gruff, the other shrill. Witnesses later agree that the gruff voice is that of a Frenchman, but the shrill voice could be a woman. She could be speaking English, Russian, Italian, or Spanish – none of the witnesses can agree. All the noises stop by the time they reach the second landing.
Once the neighbors break into the fourth story apartment (where the screams came from), they find the rooms totally destroyed. The body of resident Mademoiselle L'Espanaye is stuffed up the chimney with bruises on her neck. Also found are two sacks of cash with four thousand francs, and the corpse of the murdered girl's mother is lying on the rear stone courtyard. The bones on Madame L'Espanaye's right side are shattered and her neck has been cut so badly that her head falls off when the neighbors try to lift her body. They also discover that both the room's windows are sealed from the inside, the doors are locked, and there's no way for anyone to have escaped without being seen by the neighbors coming up the stairs.
The police are completely confused. Even though there's no evidence against him, they arrest a bank clerk named Le Bon, who brought the two women the four thousand francs three days before the murders. The police try to seem as though they're making progress, but they're not. There's no apparent motive, the murders were brutal, and no one can figure out what language was spoken or where the killer(s) went once the neighborhood posse arrived.
This is one tough case. But Dupin laughs at the impossible. He thinks it might be impossible for people stuck in their ways, like the police, to solve this case, but it's not for him. Also, he owes Le Bon, the current suspect, a favor, so he uses his connections with the chief of police to get into the crime scene.
Dupin identifies five points as essential to the killer's identity: he has a shrill voice with no words, the agility to get in through the window, superhuman strength, inhuman cruelty, and no motive. Using this evidence, Dupin comes to a conclusion that he proves to the narrator using the evidence of giant fingerprints on Mademoiselle L'Espanaye's neck. The prints are consistent with a certain species of ape native to Southeast Asia – the orangutan! (Or, as Poe spells it, Ourang-Outang.) The first voice of the Frenchman was from a man who witnessed the murders and who, although innocent, has not wanted to come forward with his story for fear of being implicated in his ape's activities. To lure the Frenchman out, Dupin places an ad in a newspaper popular with sailors advertising – get this – a found Ourang-Outang.
The Frenchman (a sailor) duly comes by Dupin's house to pick up his lost ape, and Dupin says he can pick up the animal after the man tells all he knows about the murders in the Rue Morgue. The sailor decides to confess all, since he doesn't want to see an innocent man (Le Bon) punished: the orangutan is his. Here's his story:
One night while the sailor is out partying with his buds, the ape escapes from its closet and starts playing with the sailor's shaving things. The sailor frightens the orangutan while it is holding a straight razor, and the orangutan bounds out through an open window, razor in hand. The sailor follows, but can't catch him.
Attracted by the light on in Mademoiselle L'Espanaye's apartment, the orangutan climbs up a lightning rod, swings across to a the shutter, and enters the room through an open window. The two L'Espanaye women are sitting with their backs turned to the window, when the orangutan suddenly grabs the older lady's hair and starts pretending that he's her barber. This is the origin of the horrible screams that wake the neighborhood. Her visible fear angers the ape, who slashes her throat with the razor. The sight of blood angers him even more, and he turns on the daughter, strangling her with his bare hands.
Meanwhile, the sailor has been watching all of this helplessly from the window. The orangutan sees him and suddenly becomes fearful. He tries to hide the bodies by putting Mademoiselle L'Espanaye in the chimney and throwing Madame L'Espanaye out the window. As the ape approaches the window, corpse in hand, the sailor is so freaked out that he slides down the lightning rod and runs away. And that's the sailor's story.
Dupin and the narrator use the sailor's evidence to get Le Bon off the hook. The sailor finds his ape (we don't know how) and sells him for a lot of money to a zoo. The Prefect of Police is a little miffed that Dupin solved the case where he couldn't, so he accuses Dupin of butting in. Dupin is full of smug superiority and ends the story with some snarky comments about the police chief, saying that the chief is cunning in a way, but not imaginative. Dupin is clearly gloating on the inside at the end of the story. To be fair, though, if we were smart enough to figure out this tricky case, we'd be pretty full of ourselves, too.
The Murders in the Rue Morgue
- "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" begins with a discussion of different kinds of thought.
- The narrator starts us out with the ironic observation that the brain's ability to analyze, which is the tool that we use to categorize and organize all of the things around us, rarely gets turned on itself.
- In other words, we think about a lot of stuff, but we rarely consider what it is that allows us to think in the first place.
- All we see is the evidence of such thought: anyone with a particularly strong analytical ability likes to exercise it through games and puzzles.
- The narrator then thinks about the difference between chess players and whist or draughts players.
- (Whist, by the way, is a card game kind of like bridge that involves four players playing in partnerships. The game depends on guessing the cards of both your partner and your opponents to win – check out this link for more on how it's played. "Draughts" is just an old name for checkers).
- The chess player has the kind of mind that can find answers only if she's got all of the clues she needs in front of her. There's nothing hidden on a chessboard. So, while it's a tough game, it's still mostly a test of someone's ability to think ahead based on available evidence. This is what the narrator calls the "analytical" mind.
- On the other hand, the whist player uses a different kind of skill. Like the chess player, the whist player has to look ahead and make decisions about how to play based on what she can see. But it's not just that – a good whist player will also have to figure out what cards all the other players are holding. She can't just rely on what she does know; she also has to guess about the stuff she doesn't know. The whist player is both analytical (what the narrator calls the chess player) and creative. She is the "ingeniously analytical" (for "ingenious," think imaginative, and inventive).
- In other words, a chess player (remember, the analytical mind) can work out what to do so long as she has all the information she needs in front of her.
- The whist player (that would be the ingeniously analytical mind) is better because she can figure out what she needs to know using the combined power of imagination and analysis.
- The narrator then assures us that the story to follow will comment on these statements about the nature of human thought.
- The narrator introduces us to his friend, Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin, whom he meets in Paris in the spring and summer of "18–." In other words, at some point in the 19th century.
- Both the narrator and M. Dupin are bookish types, and they become good friends. They are such good friends, that they wind up as roommates during the narrator's stay in Paris.
- Dupin and the narrator are also both night owls: it's their habit, while they live together, to close up all the blinds during the day to read, write, and talk to each other.
- Once the sun sets, or, as the narrator states grandly, upon "the advent of the true Darkness" (8), they head out onto the streets of Paris, walking and chatting until the early hours of the morning.
- During these nighttime walks, the guys like to look at the people around them to make conclusions about who they are. (These are not people who hesitate about judging books by their covers.)
- Dupin is particularly good at this kind of analysis, and brags that most men's hearts are like open windows to him.
- To give an example of their game of observation: one night when they're out walking, Dupin suddenly busts out with "He is a very little fellow, that's true, and would do better for the Théâtre des Variétés" (12).
- The "little fellow" in question is Chantilly, a local cobbler (shoemaker) who suddenly gets it into his head to try acting.
- Chantilly acts as character Xerxes (the famous Persian invader of ancient Greece; see: link to http://plato-dialogues.org/tools/char/xerxes.htm) in a tragedy by the 18th century French dramatist, Prosper Jolyot, Lord of Crébillon. (For more on this amazingly-named guy, check out this article.)
- Chantilly has been widely "Pasquinaded," or ridiculed, for his efforts.
- The narrator had been thinking this same thing: that this guy Chantilly is too short to play serious tragic roles, and that he'd do better in the Théâtre des Variétés, i.e., in comedy. In other words, Chantilly's more of a Steve Carrell type.
- The narrator is shocked that Dupin managed to figure out so exactly what the narrator was thinking, and demands to know how he figured it out when the narrator hadn't said anything.
- Dupin explains how he knew what the narrator was thinking:
- The fruiterer: The last thing Dupin and the narrator talked about before Dupin made his remark was horses. So Dupin traces his observations back to that point, when the two cross the street and the narrator runs into a fruiterer (i.e., a guy who sells fruit). The fruit-seller knocks the narrator into a stack of paving stones, which makes the narrator look angry and slightly pained.
- The street stones: Having had this accident, Dupin observes that the narrator begins staring at the ground, watching his step. The road under repair is uneven and full of holes, so when they get to a freshly paved alley called Lamartine, the narrator starts to look more cheerful. He's visibly glad that the street stones underfoot are more even for walking.
- Stereotomy: This is the art of cutting stones, or more generally, of dividing solid objects into smaller shapes. After they start walking up Lamartine, where the city is experimenting with a new pattern for paving stones, Dupin sees the narrator's happiness at the improved road and he watches the narrator mouth the word "stereotomy."
- Epicurus: Having started thinking about the mechanics of cutting things into smaller pieces, Dupin reasons that the narrator must be about to muse on "atomies," i.e., the smallest pieces of creation, an idea that he assigns to Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher. (For more on Epicurus, materialism, and scientific method, check out this site.)
- Dr. Nichol: Dr. John Pringle Nichol (whom Poe incorrectly calls Dr. Nichols) was a popular astronomer in the early 19th century who wrote books on the layout of the solar system and its planets. (Check out this link for more info.) Assuming that the narrator has been thinking about Epicurus and atoms, Dupin reasons that the next logical step in the narrator's train of association would be to think about current science and atoms.
- Orion: Having gotten from ancient to modern science, Dupin supposes that the narrator will look up at the constellation of Orion (Source), home to the Orion nebula (Source), which (Dupin claims) is the subject of both Epicurean and modern astronomical thinking. The narrator does look up, thus proving that, so far, Dupin is right.
- Chantilly: But how do we get from the narrator looking up towards Orion's nebula to this short actor fellow? In a review of Chantilly's performance as Xerxes that appeared in a newspaper the day before, the reviewer discusses Chantilly's change of name in going from a shoemaker to an actor. (The phrase Dupin uses is "assuming the buskin," i.e. putting on buskins, which were a kind of laced-up leather boot worn by actors in Greek and Roman tragedies (citation). This change of name is compared to the following line in Latin: "Perdidit antiquum litera prima sonum."
This line comes from Roman author Ovid's Fasti (see here for the complete work), and it translates to "He has ruined the sound with the first letter." As Dupin himself explains, the sentence refers to the change of the name "Urion" into "Orion." Dupin knows that he and the narrator exchanged certain "pungencies" – in this context, jokes – about the change that the narrator could not have forgotten. So, he decides, if the narrator thinks of the nebula Orion, it's only a quick jump over to Ovid's Orion/Urion, and thus to Chantilly the shoemaker/actor.
Dupin sees the narrator smile, which makes him think that the narrator is laughing over that bad review. He then sees the narrator, who had been kind of hunched over, stand up straight: visual proof that he'd been thinking about how short Chantilly is. And voilà! Nothing could be clearer! Dupin has combined his powers of observation (of the narrator's facial expressions, posture, etc.) with what he knows of the guy's thought processes to make educated guesses about what he's thinking now. And that's when Dupin jumps in with the remark about Chantilly being better suited to comedy that so astonishes the narrator in the first place.
- So, having given us this long example of Dupin's creative genius, the narrator gets us to the meat of the story: one night, the two of them are reading the newspaper when they run across a headline: "EXTRAORDINARY MURDERS."
- Here's how the murder setup goes:
- At around 3am, people living in the Quartier St. Roch, in the neighborhood of a house on the Rue Morgue (i.e., Morgue Road, a fictional Parisian street), are shaken by a series of loud screams.
- The screams are coming from the fourth story apartment of Madame L'Espanaye and her daughter, Mademoiselle Camille L'Esplanaye.
- Eight or ten local guys pry open the front door with a crowbar.
- By the time they manage to get the front door open, the screams have stopped.
- What the neighbors do hear is two or more voices that seem to be in angry conversation.
- Even these voices have stopped once the neighbors reach the second landing.
- Once they get inside the fourth story rooms, they see that the apartment has been turned over and destroyed: there's wrecked furniture everywhere.
- There's a bloodstained razor sitting on a chair. (We're thinking one of those old-fashioned straight razors and not a Bic.)
- There are two or three long, thick locks of grey hair on the hearth, also smeared with blood.
- On the floor, the neighbors find: four Napoleons (a minted gold coin issued in various denominations in the early 19th century (so named because, of course, it had Napoleon's face on it); a topaz earring; three larger silver spoons; three smaller spoons of métal d'Alger (a.k.a. Algiers metal, an alloy of tin and antimony that shines up to look like silver); and two sacks of four thousand francs (France's former currency) in gold.
- The drawers of the bureau are open but still contain lots of stuff. An iron safe stored under the bed is also open, with its key in the lock, but holds nothing except a few old letters.
- (Warning: read no further if you're particularly squeamish!)
- They find Madame L'Esplanaye's daughter's body stuffed up the chimney, still warm, and covered with severe scratches and scrapes. There are bruises on the neck that indicate that she's been strangled.
- The neighbors don't find Madame L'Esplanaye's corpse until they go from her apartment to a small yard behind the building.
- There, they discover the Madame's body, her throat so severely cut that her head falls off when they try to pick her up.
- Madame L'Esplanaye's body and head are so badly mutilated that they scarcely look human.
- Further details emerge in the next day's paper. Here's where we get individual testimony:
- Pauline Dubourg (laundress) says that the two victims seemed on excellent terms with each other, and that they lived comfortably. There's a rumor that Madame L'Esplanaye had managed to save some money, but that she still made her living as a fortune-teller. Only the fourth floor of the house was furnished; there were no other tenants or servants living there.
- Pierre Moreau (tobacco seller) claims that he'd been selling tobacco products to Madame L'Esplanaye for four years, and that she and her daughter had lived on the fourth floor of that house for six. The two ladies, he says, were supposed to have money, but this guy doesn't believe that the Madame told fortunes. He'd never seen anyone at the house except the older woman and her daughter, and maybe a doctor or a porter a handful of times. (In fact, everyone interviewed has said that no one else comes to the house, and that the shutters on the front windows are usually shut, and the ones at the back are always closed.)
- Isodore Muset (policeman) says that there were around twenty or thirty men standing in the doorway when he arrived at the house at 3am. As soon as the door was forced open, those screams the earlier article mentioned stop. Then they hear those two arguing voices: one gruff, the other shrill. He thinks that the gruff voice was that of a Frenchman (and that he said the words sacre ["sacred," but can be used as a swear word] and diable ["devil"]. The shrill voice seemed to be that of a foreigner – the language could've been Spanish.
- Henri Duval (neighbor and silversmith) was one of the first guys on the scene, and agrees with the policeman that the shrill voice was that of a foreigner – maybe Italian? Maybe a woman? Definitely not the voice of either of the L'Esplanayes.
- Mr. Odenheimer (restaurant owner) is a Dutch man who gives his testimony through a translator. He was just passing the house when he heard the shrieks and so entered the building with everyone else. He thinks that the shrill voice is actually that of a Frenchman, that it was harsh rather than shrill, and that the gruff voice kept repeating sacré, diable, and once, mon Dieu (my God).
- Jules Mignaud (banker) testifies that Madame L'Esplanaye has been his client for eight years, that she made frequent deposits, and, that on the third day before her murder, she came in person to his bank to withdraw four thousand francs.
- Adolphe de Bon (bank clerk) offers that he accompanied Madame L'Esplanaye home from the bank third day before her death, carrying her two sacks of francs for her.
- William Bird (tailor), an Englishman, says that the gruff voice was that of a Frenchman, and that he distinctly heard sacré and mon Dieu. The shrill voice, he claims, was loud, and that it was not the voice of an Englishman. He thinks it could've been a German woman's voice – but he doesn't understand German.
- Four of these witnesses later add that the room in which they found the daughter was locked from the inside.
- The windows were also shut and locked.
- There is a door between the back and front rooms – closed, but not locked.
- The door leading from the front room to the passage had been locked, with the key still in the door.
- There is also a small room at the front of the house on the fourth floor at the head of the passage but not attached to the other two, with the door slightly open. This room had been filled with old junk – boxes, bed-frames, etc.
- The whole house has been carefully searched, even down to the chimneys, and no trace of another person has been found.
- The length of time between hearing the two voices arguing and the door being forced open has been placed at somewhere between three and five minutes.
- Alfonzo Garcio (undertaker), from Spain, testifies that he did go into the house but not up the stairs (he was too frightened of the sounds of fighting going on). He says that yes, the gruff voice was a Frenchman, but the shrill voice, he claims, must have been an Englishman. He doesn't speak English, but he's sure of the sound of it.
- Alberto Montani (confectioner – i.e., candy-maker), an Italian, agrees that the gruff voice was a Frenchman, and says he could make out several words. He says specifically that the speaker was "expostulating," or attempting to reason with another. The shrill voice was a Russian, he says, but he also admits that he's never talked to a Russian.
- The witnesses all agree that the chimneys were too small for a person to go up or down without getting stuck; there's also no rear staircase on which to escape.
- Paul Dumas (physician) has the unpleasant duty of looking at the bodies. He testifies that the daughter had been strangled to death. Madame L'Esplanaye's corpse had numerous shattered bones: only a really strong man (and definitely no woman) using a large, blunt instrument could have injured her so badly. Her throat had also been slashed with something, probably the razor.
- Alexandre Etienne (surgeon) agrees with Dumas, above.
- The newspaper article concludes that there are no other clues (or "clews," as Poe spells it), and that the murders are completely baffling.
- The next edition of the paper says that, despite fresh interviews with witnesses, no new clues have come out.
- The police have arrested the bank clerk, Adolphe de Bon (note that his last name means "of good"), but without any additional evidence against him.
- Dupin is interested in the case, but he only starts to talk about it when Le Bon (as he's referred to) gets arrested.
- Dupin argues that no one can say the case is impossible yet, because so far, the only people who've investigated are the police.
- Dupin believes that the police get results because they're diligent (read: hard working and earnest), not because they're creative or imaginative.
- Then Dupin starts criticizing François Vidocq, the real-life detective on whom Dupin's character is based. (See our "In a Nutshell" for more on this.)
- Dupin says it's possible to be too deep in your thinking, that sometimes, just looking at the surface of things is enough to understand them. Dupin's saying that he's the perfect medium: not as unimaginative as the police, but not too fanciful and creative, like Vidocq.
- Le Bon once did Dupin a favor, so Dupin feels obliged to help get him off the hook for these murders.
- Dupin knows the Prefect of Police (i.e., chief of police), so he gets them permission to visit the house on the Rue Morgue.
- The house looks ordinary from the outside. Dupin and the narrator walk around the premises, and Dupin examines the neighborhood closely.
- They then visit the room itself, which is just as it was when they discovered the bodies. In fact, the corpses are still there, and Dupin looks at both them and the room with great attention.
- The narrator sees nothing not already reported in the paper.
- After brooding for a bit, at noon the next day, Dupin suddenly asks the narrator if he observed anything weird at the scene of the crime.
- The narrator says he didn't see anything that wasn't already reported in the paper.
- Dupin says that the murders seem beyond solving because: (a) they're so gross (or outré, as Poe puts it); (b) there seems to be no motive; (c) nobody can figure out who the arguing voices could've been when no one was found upstairs and there's no other exit but down the front stairs; (d) the room seems to have been pointlessly thrown around – and why was Mademoiselle L'Esplanaye stuffed in the chimney?
- However, it's these points that Dupin says are most subject to human reason, because they're so extraordinary.
- The narrator is confused. (Don't worry if you are also confused – Dupin is truly a logical genius and has to carefully explain his reasoning in order for others to follow.)
- Dupin says he's waiting for someone now who, while not the killer, is still semi-responsible for what happened.
- Dupin hands the narrator a pistol and keeps one for himself so they can keep this mysterious fellow from leaving.
- The narrator is so shocked that Dupin has apparently solved the case that he feels in a daze. Meanwhile, Dupin keeps talking as though he's addressing the narrator, but seems to be talking to himself.
- Here's Dupin's logic:
- He reasons that it couldn't have been murder-suicide. All the witnesses agreed that the arguing voices were not those of the L'Esplanaye women. Anyway, it's physically impossible. Madame L'Esplanaye could never have been strong enough to stuff her daughter's body up the chimney or to mutilate herself.
- What were those two "voices in contention" – i.e., the arguing voices? Everyone agrees that the gruff voice is a Frenchman. The important point is that the witnesses, who are of various nationalities, all heard the shrill voice as a foreigner, and specifically, as speaking a language with which they are not familiar. And none of the witnesses could hear words in this second voice's speech.
- Next up, "the possible means of egress" – in other words, how did the murderer get out of a locked room?
Doors: The killer(s) must have been still in the apartment where they found the daughter's body when the rescue party broke into the house (because of the sounds of scuffle/argument/etc.). But the doors were locked.
Chimneys: Of "ordinary width" for the first eight to ten feet, they then narrow to the point that nothing bigger than a cat could get through.
Windows: There are two, one visible, the other one partially hidden by a bedstead. The visible one is locked from the inside and blocked from opening by a nail. The second also has a similar nail. But Dupin feels that the murderer(s) must have escaped by the window, no matter how improbable it seems. So the windows must have had some kind of auto-locking system. When Dupin investigates the room in question, he finds that there is a concealed spring that allowed the windows to spring shut and lock when they are closed. That takes care of the locked window problem.
Still, what about the nails? The first, visible window Dupin rules out because the nail is intact and could not have been replaced in the window sash from the outside. Dupin is sure that the second window's nail must have something wrong with it; it's the only possibility that his reasoning allows. So he goes to check, and sure enough – the nail has been broken off inside the window frame. The head of the nail appears to be attached, but the locking mechanism is wrecked by rust and old age.
- How did the murderer(s) get down? The shutters on the fourth floor windows are of an unusually broad kind, with a lattice pattern that would give good handholds for climbing. If opened, they would be wide enough that anyone escaping through the window could just shinny down a handy nearby lightning rod. The reverse is also true: a robber (or murderer) could climb up the rod, swing over to the lattice-patterned shutters, and in through the window, if it were open.
- So, two things stand out in Dupin's story so far. The first is that the shrill voice is unusual, and the second is that the physical agility needed to get into or out of the fourth floor apartment is also amazing. (Pay attention to these two points.)
- The narrator feels like he has an inkling of what Dupin's getting at, but then it passes.
- And now back to Dupin's thought processes:
- Having figured out how the murderer(s) got in and out (the window) – what about the inside of the room?
- The bureau has been all tossed around; the police have decided this is a sign that some valuable clothes were taken. Why should this be so, asks Dupin? These two ladies hardly ever go out – why would they need expensive clothes?
- There's the four thousand francs in cash. But if money were the motive, why would the thief bother to murder these two women so brutally and then leave behind the money?
- Dupin dismisses the cash as coincidence, saying that no one would have blinked an eye at Madame L'Esplanaye's withdrawal if it hadn't happened to come so close to her hideous murder.
- There is, in fact, no motive: only police, accustomed to looking for a motive, would imagine that there could be one in this brutal, senseless act.
- There's lots of evidence that the killer was strong: the stuffing of the corpse up the chimney so hard that it needed several people to bring it down again; the pulling out of clumps of grey human hair by the root; the near severing of Madame L'Esplanaye's head using a "mere razor."
- As a side note, Dupin mentions that the shattering of Madame L'Esplanaye's bones was the result of her fall onto the stone pavement of the yard, and not a blunt instrument, as supposed by the doctors who examined her.
- This possibility (that the bones were shattered by the fall) is obvious, but the police don't think of it because their minds had been "hermetically sealed." In other words, they were unwilling to consider the idea of the windows being opened once they decided it was impossible. This is the greatest flaw of the routine way that the police think, that, once they decide something, they can't think beyond their own conclusions.
- So, we now have a killer with: an unrecognizable voice, superhuman grace, gross brutality, and no motive. So – what do you make of this, Mr. Narrator?
- The narrator can't imagine anything that'll account for all of these facts. All he can think is that some disturbed guy has escaped from the local Maison de Santé – i.e., the mental asylum.
- Dupin says, well, you're not completely off the mark, but even madmen's voices have some language, even if it's totally incoherent. This one had no language at all.
- Also, Dupin adds that he found something strange clenched in Madame L'Espanaye's fist.
- The narrator, clearly freaked out, acknowledges that it can't be human hair.
- Dupin responds that he never said it was. "This" is a sketch of the finger patterns on Mademoiselle L'Espanaye's neck: they must belong to simply gigantic hands.
- Dupin then hands the narrator a description of the Ourang-Outang. (For more on what we'd call the orangutan, check out this page.) He then gives details about their strength, size, and "wild ferocity." This characterization is not accurate, since orangutans are gentle in most circumstances.
- This description, by the way, Dupin attributes to Georges Cuvier, the famous scientist of evolution and paleontology. (For more on this guy, look here.)
- The narrator finally gets it: the fingers of the Ourang-Outang are exactly what he sees on the sketch of Mademoiselle L'Espanaye's neck.
- But how on earth could an Ourang-Outang have gotten to the L'Espanaye apartment? He's still baffled.
- Dupin acknowledges the narrator's confusion.
- Dupin then points out another key piece of evidence largely overlooked: that of the Italian witness, Montani, who testified that the first, French voice was "expostulating" with the second, shrill voice.
- Dupin gambles, using this bit of information that, somewhere in Paris right now, there is a Frenchman who knows of the murders, but who did not commit them. The Ourang-Outang may have escaped from him, and it is probably still free in the city somewhere..
- Assuming that the Frenchman is indeed an innocent bystander, Dupin assumes that he'll want to retrieve his murderous Ourang-Outang. So, Dupin puts out an ad in a local paper popular with sailors to bring the guy to their home.
- The ad says: found, one Ourang-Outang, caught the morning of a certain date (the date of the murder, specifies the narrator). The owner (who is supposed to be a sailor on a ship from Malta) can have the animal back, as long as he reimburses the money spent on the animal's capture and upkeep. The owner is asked to come to a specific address in the Faubourg St. Germain (the section of Paris where the narrator and Dupin live).
- Seeing this ad, the narrator asks how Dupin can know the sailor's from a Maltese ship?
- (Malta, by the way, is an island in the Mediterranean Sea under British control; see here for more.)
- Dupin says he's not sure, but he's guessed based on a ribbon he picked up at the foot of the lightning rod, which is (a) greasy from tying back long hair, of which sailors are fond, and (b) knotted in a way that is particular to Malta.
- Putting this tidbit into the ad is a good idea because, if the sailor isn't from a Maltese ship, he'll just think Dupin is wrong in some of his facts.
- If the sailor is from a Maltese ship, then the advertiser already knows who he is, and so doesn't have much to lose. In fact, the sailor might think that he'll look guiltier not picking up the Ourang-Outang, then doing nothing about it.
- Once Dupin explains this logic, he and the narrator hear someone coming up the stairs.
- The sailor comes in: he's a muscular guy with a big mustache – "not altogether unprepossessing" (i.e., not completely unattractive) (103). He's carrying a big oak club – a "cudgel" – and is French.
- Dupin offers that the sailor must be here for the Ourang-Outang.
- The sailor agrees and seems generally relieved.
- Dupin says that he'll be sorry to lose the beast, and the sailor replies that he'll be happy to pay a reward within reason.
- Dupin answers that that's all fair, oh, and he also wants to hear all about what the sailor knows about these murders in the Rue Morgue.
- Dupin then draws his pistol and lays it on the table – presumably, as silent incentive.
- The sailor's face goes red and he grabs his giant club, but just as quickly, he releases it and starts trembling. The narrator feels bad about his obvious distress.
- Dupin reassures him: we know you didn't kill anybody, and we promise we're not going to do anything to you, but you have to tell us what you know, because an innocent man (remember Le Bon?) will take the fall otherwise.
- The sailor relaxes, but still looks pretty nervous. He says he wants to "make a clean breast of it" (115) – he wants to confess all. The sailor's story is as follows:
- He has recently returned from a sailing expedition to Borneo (one of the islands of the Malaysian island group in southeast Asia (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/print/my.html)), where he and a friend managed to capture an Ourang-Outang.
- His friend died, leaving him in sole possession of the animal.
- He wants to sell the ape.
- One night, he goes out with a bunch of fellow sailors, leaving the Ourang-Outang locked in his closet.
- The animal manages to escape, and the sailor comes home to find that it has lathered up its face and is preparing for a shave. The ape's obviously been watching the sailor from his closet, and is imitating his habits.
- The sailor becomes worried at the sight of the animal with a razor: how awful that this powerful animal should be holding something as dangerous as a razor.
- He grabs a whip that he's been using to keep the animal under control. The Ourang-Outang sees it and runs away, leaping out an open window.
- The sailor pursues the Ourang-Outang through the streets of Paris until the ape, attracted by the light on in the L'Espanaye apartment, clambers up the lightning rod and across the open shutter in through the window.
- The sailor follows the ape up the rod and in through the open window, where he sees Madame L'Espanaye and her daughter arranging papers in an iron chest. Their backs are turned to the window.
- The two women do not see the ape enter the room behind them, and so are surprised when it suddenly grabs the older lady by her hair and begins holding the razor to her face, imitating a barber. (Remember, the sailor is still watching from the window.)
- The Madame starts to scream and struggle, which angers the ape enough that he suddenly slashes her throat.
- The sight of blood makes the Ourang-Outang even angrier, and it leaps onto the daughter, throttling her with its bare hands.
- It then looks over to the window and sees the face of the sailor. Remembering the whip, the ape's anger transforms to fear, and it starts trying to hide its wrongdoing by sticking the body of the daughter in the chimney and picking up the body of the mother to throw out the window.
- Seeing the ape coming towards the window, holding the body of Madame L'Espanaye, the sailor freaks out and runs away, not waiting to see what happens next.
- The rescuers hear the Frenchman's exclamations of horror and the ape's meaningless "jabberings" (121).
- Thus ends the sailor's story; the narrator takes over again.
- The window must have shut after the Ourang-Outang escaped the apartment, leaving it locked.
- The ape eventually gets caught by the sailor, who then sells it to a zoo.
- Dupin goes to the office of the Prefect of the Police and gets Le Bon released.
- The Prefect does respect Dupin's judgment, but he's also clearly angry that the resolution of this case has been so strange. He takes out his annoyance on Dupin, wishing that he'd just mind his own business.
- Dupin knows that the Prefect is just jealous of him.
- Dupin thinks that the Prefect is all cunning and no imagination.
- The Prefect's talent is, says Dupin cuttingly, "de nier ce qui est, et d'expliquer ce qui n'est pas": To deny what is, and to explain what is not. (See our section on "What's Up with the Ending?" for more on this last line.)