Study Guide

The Purloined Letter Versions of Reality

By Edgar Allan Poe

Versions of Reality

What if the letter never makes it back to the royal lady? What if G— actually wants the letter for his own nefarious purposes? What if the narrator is lying to us? What if nothing's real? "The Purloined Letter" leaves us scrambling in the dark for solid clues. With all the trickery and deceit—not to mention that we only get second- and third-hand hints to the whole thing—it's hard to know what's real and what's not. Like the letter, reality is hidden, disguised, purloined, and even forged. Told from within the dark and smoky Dupin library, even the story itself takes on the distinctive hue of unreality.

Questions About Versions of Reality

  1. What might Dupin's "green spectacles" (111) have to do with the way that Poe deals with the nature of reality?
  2. Is the story really about a letter, or is it about something else? What else might it be about?
  3. How do the various characters manipulate reality? Whom do their manipulations affect?
  4. Why does the narrator conceal the contents of the letter from the readers?

Chew on This

The "Purloined Letter" demonstrates that reality can be manipulated through lies and deceit to the extent that "reality" ceases to have a stable meaning.

Dupin's dark, smoky library hints at the impenetrable nature of reality.