Home » Detective fiction » Essay about An Analysis Of Poes Dupin And The Power Of Detection

Essay about An Analysis Of Poes Dupin And The Power Of Detection

Edgar Allan Poe’s fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin is a complex character and one who often walks the line between lawful and criminal investigative practices. However shadowy and manipulative, Dupin’s prowess to frame a narrative and skills of detection are unmatched. In the article “Poe’s Dupin and the Power of Detection” Peter Thoms examines the narrative formula of detective fiction that Poe develops in the stories of Dupin and its connection to the audience.

Thoms presents evidence of a criminal side exposing Dupin as a duplicitous character capable of acts that can be perceived as unbecoming, responsible for all manner of transgressions. Further Thoms explores Dupin as a reader and writer, answering if Poe’s detective fiction provides enough tension and intrigue to entice the audience to continue reading. And, throughout we will examine if this evidence presented by Thoms individually to see if they can be seen in other works by Poe that are not considered to be part of his detective fiction. It wasn’t until the introduction of C.

Auguste Dupin and the stories of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” and “The Purloined Letter” that the features of detective fiction were solidified such as a seemingly perplexing crime, mystery, or violent murder, the baffled and bungling police, a wronged suspect, an eccentric and brilliant mastermind with keen skills of observation, an impressionable companion, sidekick, or narrator, and a clever an often unexpected solution in the denouement. Poe sets up a paradigm that would eventually become good detective versus bad criminal.

However, Thoms contends that, “not content with engineering the structure of detective fiction… Poe proceeds to destabilize what he has wrought by challenging the apparent opposition between good detective and bad criminal” (142). Dupin’s unique ability to read people (psychologically getting into their minds) as well as his power “in representing both others and himself” (Thoms 139) to explain the narrative, often takes the form of “oppressive power[s] in trespassing upon the private lives of others” (Thoms 136).

One example Thoms uses to illustrate this point is in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, here Dupin’s power to decide what details to include in his solution “overlooks (and thus, in a sense, endorses) the money-making motive of the sailor” (138). By default this includes the oppressive nature in which the sailor acted in trapping the orangutan and attempting to subdue the beast with a whip prior to its escape. Dupin extends a similar form of oppressive behavior when he interrogates the sailor at gunpoint.

Thoms highlights Dupin’s “concealment… f the moral crime” in attaining the orangutan and a disregard for the sailor’s responsibility to the murders in order to “shield his own behavior” (138). Thoms argues that “to examine the legitimacy of the sailor’s project and… his cruel domination of the orangutan would… raise uneasy question about [Dupin’s]… own employment of power” (138). Thoms example frames Dupin in a duplicitous light, projecting him as “not the criminal’s opposite but a tainted figure who is entangled in the very world he seeks to explicate” (Thoms 136).

That blurring of line between good and bad is apparent in Poe’s “Thou Art the Man. ” In the tale the narrator in order to extract a confession from Mr. Goodfellow, “procures a stiff piece of whalebone, thrust it down the throat of the corpse [of the murdered Mr. Shuttleworthy], and deposited the latter in an old wine box… [so as soon as the lid was removed] the top would fly off and the body fly up” (Poe 224). He notes that after Mr. Goodfellow’s record”… was finally exhausted, he arose, staggered backwards from the table, and fell — dead” (Poe 224).

Not only has the narrator transgressed upon the corpse by means of desecration but in the act of crudely acquiring a confession, killed the very man who committed the crime. There is also the manner in which he has horrified the other guest who rushed “for the doors and windows… and many of the most robust men in the room fainted outright through sheer horror” (Poe 223). It would seem that the narrator bears some if not all the responsibility of Mr. Goodfellow’s death and the psychological collateral damage of the guests brought on by the vulgar scene.

Thoms is correct in his statement as it car in works with and without Dupin that the clear waters that should separate intentions of good and evil are in fact quite murky. Another instance that Thoms examines is Dupin’s propensity to shock his audience. This in itself is a transgressive act toward his fictional audience and readers. Thoms points out that in this way Poe reveals that the “detective actually seems fond of manufacturing the very anxiety he is supposed to soothe” (143). It creates an air of victimization and Thoms in one example again turns to the sailor’s interrogation in “The Murders of the Rue Morgue.

After luring the sailor into his home and making him comfortable Dupin then stuns him by producing a gun and explains his “true intention of extracting information about the murders” (144). The sailor is so shocked he starts “trembling violently, and with the countenance of death itself” (Poe 177). Outside of Dupin the manufacturing of anxiety for the purpose of shock is also present in Poe’s “The Gold-Bug” where both Jupiter and the narrator are led to believe that the gold bug has made Mr. Legrand ill. Legrand keeps them in suspense until the end when it turns out he was just engrossed in solving the location of buried treasure.

However the building of this tension is exciting and was most likely the effect Poe was after. Thoms’ evidence is compelling but, is the power of detection enough to enable the reader to see beyond the transgressions. In the article Thoms explains that in the genre of detective fiction the “criminal is the antagonist, who in making mystery obstructs the formation of a rounded narrative” (135). Unlike traditional story arcs, the detective story provides us with the end of an event (i. e. a crime or murder) to which the story’s protagonist, the detective hero “who in a skilled act of reading and writing… evises the completed narrative of explanation” (135). What starts in disarray, ends in a “completed narrative structure of beginning, middle, and end” while the process of detection answers the readers question of “Why am I where l am? sandi … soothelsl our distress by locating the subject or subjects in an explanatory context” (135). Thus within the story the role of Dupin is to be both a reader through observation and surveillance, and also as a writer by rendering a solution and controlling the narrative.

An example Thoms presents is in “The Mystery of Marie Roget” that begins with the discovery of a woman’s body in which Dupin is a literal reader of newspaper articles concerning the murder but must also reveal “his ability to read the mysterious space of the city” (136) in other words Dupin must reimagine himself as the victim and the murderer placing their activities in parts of the city in order to paint a narrative to guide the audience and give the corpse “a local habitation, a name, and finally a history that explains her death” (136).

Interestingly Dupin’s ability to read the city and formulate a narrative is not exclusive to his character alone. In one of Poe’s earlier works “The Man of the Crowd” the story’s narrator is able to read people and classify them based on the details in their appearance. When he spots an old man whose countenance is “of the absolute idiosyncrasy of its expression” (268), he is compelled to follow and investigate his subject.

Similar to Dupin’s claim in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” that he could get into the minds of others because “most men in respect to himself, wore windows in their bosoms” (168) the narrator in “The Man of the Crowd” is able to look through a literal window by catching a glimpse into the old man’s pocket reveling either “a diamond, or… a dagger” (269). This information along with his extensive surveillance the narrator concludes that the old man is “the type and genius of deep crime” thus; the narrator writes the narrative from his perspective and casts light on a new mystery for the audience to consider.

Thoms points out that “detective fiction and the psychological comforts it offers are rather superficial” that although the investigator “may seem to eradicate the explicit mystery… he nevertheless leaves in its stead the disconcerting story of transgression” (136). This is certainly the case with “The Man of the Crowd” as the audience is lead to believe that the old man has transgressed in some form. However, this turn of events only rejuvenates the story and incites the reader to continue reading.

Thoms concludes by pointing out that the “tension [created] between power and subjection is eventually channeled into the… audience” (145) and that the reader reluctantly submits “trusting that the… suffering… can paradoxically bring pleasure” (145). In this statement Thoms is absolutely right. The power of detection promises neither “order nor disorder” (Thoms 146), it blurs the boundaries but it does offer the possibility of a solution.

It shows that Poe’s detective stories extend further than just being the foundational framework in the modern detective story found in works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie but, also in creating elements seen in the characters of gritty police dramas like Dirty Harry or the stories that inspired the detective comics of Batman. The fact that we can look past any transgressions, is the power of detection. That despite all its faults in victimization, narrative and psychological manipulation, collateral damage, and the building of unease within the reader, we read because we crave the tension and expect a thrill.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.