If you've ever frantically hit "undo send" after shooting off an email, you know powerful an incriminating letter—or text, or email—can be. In "The Purloined Letter," whoever has the words has the power, whether it's used for money, political gain, or just sheer control. By tracing the letter's movements in the story, we can trace the shifting flow of power. In fact, maybe we can even read "The Purloined Letter" as a study in the abuse of power. Except for possibly the royal man, all the characters (including the narrator) use their power for their own personal, political, or financial agendas.
Questions About Power
Which seems more powerful—revealing or keeping secrets? Are any secrets in the story revealed?
Who seems to have the most power, overall, in the story?
What does "The Purloined Letter" say about political power, if anything? Does this seem true in general, or only in the story?
Is the narrator powerful? How might his power operate?
Chew on This
The royal lady may seem powerless, but the other characters are actually just playing into her game.
Although "The Purloined Letter" may seem to suggest that the holder of the letter possess power, possession actually robs the possessor of power by leaving him or her to theft, extortion, and manipulation.