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The Murders in the Rue Morgue

Term Definition
The Murders in the Rue Morgue

"The Murders in the Rue Morgue" is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe published in Graham's Magazine in 1841. It has been recognized as the first modern detective story; Poe referred to it as one of his "tales of ratiocination". 

The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is a short story that was written by Edgar Allen Poe. Published in Graham’s Magazine in 1841, it has been recognized world-wide as the first modern detective story. It begins with a double murder in which one victim’s throat is cut so severely that her head is almost severed and the other is strangled before being stuffed into a chimney. It happens in a locked room that is inaccessible room on the fourth floor of the morgue. Neighbors who heard the murder give conflicting accounts of what happened and each insists that the murdered used a different language.

When a hair is found on the scene that is not human, an ad is released asking if anyone has lost as orangutan. One sailor came forward, who admitted that he had one that escaped with his shaving razor. The orangutan climbed up to the room and attempted to shave the victim’s face like he had seen the sailor do, accidentally killing her. The panic the murder caused whipped the animal into a fury where it killed the other victim.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue - A true detective story

Poe himself stated in a letter that the theme of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is the exercise of ingenuity when solving a murder. The man who investigates the murder is not a real detective and instead studies the crime for his own amusement. He does not attempt to solve the crime for notoriety or money, but rather in the interest of truth and justice, as an innocent man is accused of the murder. Crime was a popular topic of the times, as there was a lot of urban development going on and people were becoming more fearful and mindful of the possibility of crime. Newspapers were beginning to report murders and criminal trials and both London and American cities were developing their early professional police forces in order to control some of the unruly and dangerous behavior. 

Edgar Allan Poe's literary style

The method that the detective uses to solve the crime is called ratiocination, in which a person uses exact and logical thinking in order to solve a problem. Poe shows this when the detective first explains to the narrator that he knew what he was thinking about actor Chantilly. The detective uses the same kind of reasoning to solve the crime. His method relies greatly on reading and writing. For example, the newspaper accounts of crimes pique the detective’s curiosity, in addition to the knowledge he possesses about orangutans, which he learned from written accounts of French zoologist Georges Cuvier. This method of crime-solving also engages the reader, who is able to follow along by reading the clues themselves. Poe also emphasizes the power of spoken word through symbolic devices. When the detective questions the sailor about the murder, the sailor theatrically acts out the death of one of the victims.

The characters in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” are said to have become templates for characters in future detective novels such as Sherlock Holms and Hercule Poirot. However, this story is distinct from regular mystery novels because it focuses more on the analysis of the crime in order to solve it. The role that Edgar Allen Poe played in the creation of the detective genre is reflected in the annual Edgar Awards, which are given to writers by the Mystery Writers of America. 

“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was praised upon publication. Upon its release, Poe was also praised for his creation of a new literary genre. Newspapers called Poe a genius and he was acclaimed for his inventive powers and literary skill, though he downplayed his achievements (despite being considered a great victorian era author). 

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