Five short stories of Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) pioneered many of the most enduring forms of American popular culture, including detective story and the Gothic or sensational tale. I will compare and contrast five short stories of Poe: The Gold-Bug, The Purloined Letter, “Thou Art the Man”, The Cask of Amontillado and The Pit and the Pendulum. The genre, the purpose and role of the narrator and the parallelism between all of the stories will be examined.
The five stories can be split up into two groups by their genre: detective story and gothic horror. The detective stories are The Gold-Bug, The Purloined Letter and “Thou Art the Man”; while the Gothic horrors are The Cask of Amontillado and The Pit and the Pendulum.
Poe gave birth to the detective stories we know today, still, before his works, there were detectives in literature, but no detection (there were investigators of crime in Lytton’s and Godwin’s works too, but not in the same meaning as Poe’s detective). Poe, instead of calling his writings detective stories, uses the term “tales of ratiocination”. According to the classical rules of detective fiction, three indispensable elements are necessary for success: the mystery, the detective and the solution/revelation. All these three can be found in his works. The Gold-Bug lacks the crime element, but still can be called a detective story because of the way of finding the pirate treasure, like the solving of a puzzle. Poe says detecting a crime is similar to a puzzle, because there is only one correct and perfect solution, which resembles a cryptogram. A cryptogram loses its interest when it has been solved. The detective characters are an image of Poe himself and all of them share similarities: they are aristocratic, arrogant and apparently omniscient; and they solve crimes as “reasoning machines”. The named detectives, Chevalier Charles Auguste Dupin and Mr. William Legrand both were once wealthy, but a series of misfortunes made them lose their fortune. They live retired from the world, quite antisocially. The method, by which they solve the crimes, is called analysis by Poe: just using logic and observation to find out the truth. In The Purloined letter and The Gold-Bug the detectives have a companion, the narrator who plays the part of the listener; the man who must be enlightened about what is happening, and who thereby passes the necessary information on to the reader. He is the link between the detective and the reader, and in his inability to comprehend the meaning of the clues both flatters the reader and shows off more brilliantly the sagacity of the detective. All three of the detective stories bring something new to the genre. The Gold-Bug is the first to use cryptography literally to solve the mystery of the treasure, The Purloined Letter shows how obvious a solution can be and “Thou Art the Man” is the first to feature a crime in which the villain is not a thug or criminal with...