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In fictional writings, style is a term that is used to describe a set of norms for classifying writings, speech, and other art forms. These norms are formed by conventions but change over time as other new styles are developed and older ones are discarded. Classification of fictional works makes use of one or more of the styles and a piece of writing may fall under more than one genre of writing and the style used defines the author’s interactions with the environment and his/her experiences in such interactions.
The paper aims to explore the use of style through an analysis of fictional works by American writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849).
Edgar Allan Poe is best known for his writings of horror fiction, crime and detective fiction, comedy, and satire. He wrote several short stories, some of which were published after his death. These include Ligaea (1858), The Fall of the House of Usher (1858), William Wilson (1839), and The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) among others.
For the current study of style in Poe’s works, we shall consider The Murder in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter for which we shall study three styles.
The Purloined Letter begins with an unknown narrator in the company of a friend, C. Augustine Duplin while pondering the murders in the Rue Morgue. The story proceeds by describing the arrival of the prefect of the Parisian police force by the name of Monsieur G-. The narrator states that the prefect came to consult with Dupin for the second time about the letter that went missing from the royal apartment. The person who took it is known as Minister D——, an important government official who was still in possession of the document. The Perfect describes how the lady at the apartment had placed the letter on the table as the suspect walked into the royal apartments. Minister D—— walked in and saw the contents of the letter, produced another copy that almost looked like the stolen one, and placed it next to the important letter. He then engaged the lady in a discussion. As he prepared to leave, he left his letter and took the lady’s; the Prefect also explains how important D—— is to the lady.
The prefect also notifies Dupin that they had searched the room where D—— stayed, behind the wallpapers and under the carpets, but had not found the letter. They had even inspected the tables and chairs using microscopes and even the cushion but the letter was still unavailable. Dupin then asks for the description of the letter upon which the prefect gives the details from the memorandum book. The perfect returned a month later but discovered that Dupin had not found the letter despite being promised a huge reward that had been recently doubled. The perfect told Dupin that he will offer 50,000 francs to anyone who could obtain the letter that was becoming more and more important by the day. On hearing of this offer, Dupin told the Prefect to sign the cheque so that he can give him the letter, he signed the cheque and handed it to Dupin who in turn opened an escritoire, took out the letter, and handed it over to the Prefect. After determining that it was the original letter, the Perfect rushes out to deliver it.
The narrator then enquires from Dupin how he had found the letter, Dupin told him how the Parisian police are skilled but had underestimated D——‘s potential because he was a poet. He told him how D—— hid the letter in an open place after knowing that the police would search in the detailed hiding places.
Dupin said that he had visited Minister D—— at his office complaining of weak eyes and wore green spectacles in disguise, then struck a conversation with him. He had noticed a half-torn letter in a cheap card rack hanging from a dirty ribbon and upon examining closely, concluded that D—— had written a new address on the opposite side of the stolen one, refolded it the opposite way, and placed his seal on the letter. For Dupin to return to D-, he had to leave his snuffbox behind. He returned the following day and picked up the talk they had begun the previous day. Dupin also arranged for someone to make a gunshot-like sound outside the window while in the minister’s apartment. As D—— rushed to the window to inspect the incident, Dupin replaced the stolen letter with a duplicate. He then went ahead to explain that he left the duplicate letter to avoid any incidence of the minister suspecting him.
The Murder in the Rue Morgue is also told by an unnamed narrator who begins with the tale of the murder of Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter in the Rue Morgue, a street in Paris. The newspaper had it that the mother had suffered a severe cut in the throat while her daughter had been strangled and her body thrown into the smokestack. The murders took place in a room on the fourth floor which was locked from the inside. The neighbors gave conflicting statements, claiming that they heard a high-pitched voice of unknown ethnicity and a deep Frenchman’s voice. The incident could not be described as a robbery case basically because the money that the deceased had withdrawn from the bank was still in her apartment.
The narrator and his friend, Dupin who lived in Paris in the same apartment get to know of these murders through the newspaper. Dupin who possessed excellent analytical powers scrutinized the incidence to conclude. He was so touched when Adolphe Le Bon, a bank clerk who once assisted him in some way was arrested for the murders and decides to help G——, the prefect of the police with the case.
The detective nature of the story begins when Dupin argues conclusively that since none of the witnesses could agree on the language, the murderer must have been non-human. He also examined the windows in the apartment that were only operated by spring and only opened from the inside; he discovered a broken nail in one window and dismissed the argument that someone could have opened the window and left the building without creating suspicion. He also observed that a person or something of great powers could have jumped from the lightning rod to the shutters of the window and finally into the apartment. He based his argument on the fact that no ordinary human being could inflict the kind of injuries observed on the mother’s body. The hair found at the murder scene was not human and after drawing the shape of the hand of the murderer, he matched it to an Ourang-Outang.
Dupin then placed an advert in the newspaper for the safe capture of the animal involved to trace the owner. The animal owner, a sailor, turned up and upon being interrogated by Dupin, he revealed how the animal had escaped and climbed up the wall, killing Madame L’Espanaye and choking her daughter (Camille). The identity of the mysterious voices was also confirmed; the deep voice was the sailor while the shrill one was the Ourang-Outang. This led to Le Bon’s release while the perfect decides not to appreciate Dupin’s efforts.
Use of a Narrator
Poe makes use of a first-person narrator in most of his fictional works, his narrators are unnamed and in most cases erratic.
In The Purloined Letter, Poe uses his narrator to introduce C. Augustine Dupin to the readers; the narrator also informs the readers of the mysterious murder of Marie Roget and the incidences of the Rue Morgue which is discussed in the novel, The Murders in the Rue Morgue. The narrator also introduces the Prefect of the Parisian Police force, Monsieur G—. The presence of the narrator as Dupin and the Prefect in the discussion about the theft at the royal apartment gives us an insight into the details of the theft mainly due to the narrator’s inquisitiveness. His questions to the Prefect inform the readers of how Minister D— stole the letter and how the police searched his apartment.
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The Prefect returns after one month and enters into some form of ordinary conversation upon which the narrator questions him about the stolen letter. In the subsequent pages of the novel, we get to learn of how Dupin picked up the letter from the Minister’s residence while leaving his own.
In the novel, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, the narrator begins with a discussion of the analytic mind and describes how the analyst was pushed absurdly by both intuition and the ethical prejudice to unravel what confuses his peers. He then goes on to describe how he met C. Augustine Dupin as they were both looking for the same book in a library and later decided to live together and share the expenses. He introduces the readers to Dupin’s dazzling analytical powers in working backward and connecting minor details to come up with a sound conclusion. He then informs the audience of the case at hand; that of the horrible murder in the Rue Morgue and cites an excerpt from the newspaper that gives the details of the murder. The paper also gives additional information, especially statements from the witnesses and the readers get to know of these through the narrator. As in The Purloined Letter, the narrator’s inquisitiveness once again leads us into discovering Dupin’s detective skills as he goes through the evidence collected in the building. Dupin also scrutinizes the statements given by the witnesses to come up with a very accurate conclusion.
The narrator openly comments on the characters and their actions as he is in a position of seeing all the events. First-person narration makes it possible for Poe to be a character in his novels and convey his internal thoughts to the readers. It also allows him to develop the various characters involved in the story besides sharing his opinions, biases, and values and accurately telling the story from his point of view.
Poe decides not to use Dupin as the narrator to portray him as a hero in solving the crimes. Besides, his explanations of the analyses seem to astonish the narrator, thence the audience. He also allows himself to be outsmarted by the detective thereby signifying that Dupin’s thinking is ahead of the police and the reader.
The technique of exposition has been used by Poe to expose various facts to the readers. For instance, in the novel, The Purloined Letter, the plot is developed through the direct questions directed to Dupin and the prefect by the narrator. The narrator achieves this by reminding the two of any mistakes they have committed in their answers in addition to allowing them to elaborate their answers.
The expository style continues in the final stages of the story as Dupin explains his method of analysis to the narrator. He gives the details of how the Prefect and his men were very thorough in their investigations and had done all they knew but not everything they could do.
In The Murders in the Rue Morgue, the reader can identify the background of the story, the setting (Paris), characters, and the mysterious murder to be solved. This is the preliminary exposition and characterizes the main personality of the story; C. Augustine Dupin and especially his mental features. While the nature of the murder is still a mystery in the early sections of the story, Poe gives more details by providing the reader with newspaper excerpts and numerous witness accounts. Once again, Dupin explains his analytical methods that finally lead to the capture of the sailor who owned the Ourang-Outang.
Poe manages to develop the theme of the two novels discussed using different styles; most notably detective fiction in which he uses an identical character in finding solutions to the two crimes. Other styles used include symbolism and horror fiction.