Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales

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“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, ”The Mystery of Marie Roget”, ”The Purloined Letter”, ”`Thou Art the Man`”, ”A Tale of the Ragged Mountains” all points out to the fact that “truth is not what it appears to be.”

Oftentimes we are misled to believe one thing when the real facts actually pertain to another. Truth in the real world could actually be stranger than fiction or those that are depicted in literature. A classic example of this would be Poe’s “The Mystery of Marie Roget”. The story is actually based on a real New York story crime mystery which remains unsolved to this day.

Poe used the method of ratiocination in his mystery tales. Detective fiction tells us that “truth is what remains after the impossible has been determined-no matter how improbable that truth may seem.” Poe best exemplified this premise in his mystery works. Often, there is more than one truth in the story. Sometimes, these truths are conflicting. As in the case of “Murders in Rue Morgue” which deserved special mention since it was the first tale where Poe made use of ratiocination. Here, we see apparent “impossibilities”, as seen by the police because of their preconceived biases, to be in actuality real “possibilities”.

Truths may not appear obvious. But as Poe pointed out in his finest mystery story “Purloined Letter”, “the case is so difficult to solve because it appears to be so simple.” This rule applies to most detective stories. Often the most complex mystery appears to be so because it occurs in the “most obvious place”. Truth, therefore, is not hard to find if we look for it with open eyes, with inner discernment instead of relying on physical senses alone.

The language of the stories could either help or conceal the truth depending on the reader. Given the facts, he could arrive at logical conclusions. Or, he could let his biases color his judgment thereby limiting his perception on the matter under investigation. In the Purloined Letter, for instance, detective Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin asked Monsieur G to search Minister D’s house thoroughly so he could find the letter that the latter used to blackmail the former. After a month of searching the entire house, Monsieur G gave up. It turned out that the letter was hidden in plain sight but cleverly disguised.

All of the aforementioned stories bore striking resemblance in the way Poe arrived at the solution. All stories used the principle of ratiocination – which is the application of clear logic to solve the mystery.

Poe gave hints to the solution as the story evolved. All the clues, as a matter of fact, are mentioned in the story. But in detective fiction, it is not enough to produce clues but also to arrange these clues in such a way that at the end of the story one arrived at an

unexpected solution, which in hindsight would have shed light or give logic to the story in the first place. Despite the half-facts presented to the reader, it was easy to sense in the way Poe constructed the story that something was going on and deserved the reader’s attention. A number of the scenes and incidents in the stories mentioned above have dual meanings. One is obvious. The other and often the most important is hidden except for those with really discerning eyes and revealed at the end.


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