The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe - Literary Analysis Essay

Paper Type:  Literature review
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1337 Words
Date:  2022-04-20


The Purloined Letter is a short story written by Edgar Allan Poe and it comprises three of his detective stories. It features the fictional C. Auguste Dupin. His stories are considered to be important foundations of the modern-day stories on detective work like Sherlock Holmes. The purloined letter is a story about the retrieval of a stolen letter from royal quarters by an individual who was known. The woman to whom the letter was stolen from hires the prefect of the Parisian police to find the missing letter. The following essay thus seeks to explain the logical powers, inductive and deductive reasoning of one Auguste Dupin, who was consulted by the prefect to help him find the missing letter ( Edgar, 12).

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The prefect after being hired by the lady to whom the letter belonged, uses all his powers in the police department to find the letter. Having a set of keys that could access all royal quarters, he uses it to open all the chambers that the 'thief', being a minister at the royal quarters resided in. The prefect uses all the tricks he has in identifying the possible places the letter could have been hidden. Together with his team, they devour the chambers inside and out using all the techniques he knows and thoroughly checking and double checking every single room. They search every single inch of the chambers but their efforts are futile as they do not find anything helpful.

The prefect goes to visit his friend, Dupin, who had an eye for what he referred to as oddities. He narrates his story to Dupin and his friend of how the letter was stolen and all that he had done to retrieve it but still failed. Thus, he humbly asked Dupin for some advice on where exactly the letter could have been hidden. After keenly listening to the prefect, Dupin advises him to go back to the chambers and search again as he was convinced that the letter was in those chambers. Unhappy with the response he got from Dupin he left the premises because he was convinced going there that Dupin would offer great advice that would aid him in his search.

However, after the prefect leaves the premises, Dupin's thoughts on the conversation they had just heard do not end there. He instead secretly plans to retrieve the letter himself from the minister's chambers. One month later the prefect comes back to their home, frustrated as he had not found the letter yet. Dupin asks if there is any reward money for the retrieval of the letter and the prefect says that there is. Dupin asks the prefect to write him the reward money cheque after which he would give him the letter he had been looking for, and with mixed emotions, he writes down the cheque and immediately he is done, Dupin hands him the letter.

After the prefect leaves their premises his friend is utterly amazed by how Dupin was able to retrieve the letter so swiftly and he goes ahead to explain himself to his friend. He, first of all, begins by explaining his earlier days in school and gave him the story of a boy in his class who would always outsmart everyone in a game of 'odds and evens'. When the boy was asked how he was able to always accurately guess the answers right, he replied by saying that his first response was not usually an accurate answer, but it was however devised to gauge his next responses depending on how smart or how stupid the person asking the questions was. From there he would then be able to guess the rest of the questions right.

This technique amazed Dupin and thus he used the exact same concept to find the missing letter. According to Dupin, the prefect had his mindset that the techniques he would use would definitely aid him in finding the letter as it had worked on his previous works before. However, relying on a rigid set of rules does not always get one the answers they need according to Dupin and that's why he resorted to gauging the thoughts of the minister to finding the letter.

The minister was both a poet and a mathematician and there were certain ways that mathematicians behaved as explained by Dupin, and according to Dupin the prefect would have found the letter if the minister was purely a mathematician, however, the minister was also a poet meaning he viewed the things he did in a poetic manner and therefore how he would have hidden this letter would also have been poetic. With knowledge of this, Dupin deduced that the minister being a mathematician would have foreseen all the checks that the police would have conducted in order to find the letter and thus he knew the only way to hide the letter was not to hide it all.

Dupin knew that the letter had to be kept close in case it was urgently needed and therefore it still had to be in the chambers and that's why he advised the prefect to go back to the chambers to look for it. However, the prefect still used the same tactics to look for the letters as before and thus this meant that he would not find it. With all these conclusions in mind, Dupin set a visit to the minister's hotel and office as they were old friends. While at his office he examined everything with scrutiny as he well believed that that letter had to have been hidden in there. They conversed the whole time without the minister suspecting that Dupin was actually investigating his office and desk (Poe, 45).

Dupin noticed a lot of things but none of them seemed odd. However, he came eye to eye with something that resembled the detailed definition of the letter they had been given by the prefect. Upon this realization, he scrutinized the details of the letter and the more he looked at it, the more he realized that he was looking at the purloined letter which had been disguised upside down. Dupin knew that he could not just outright blurt out to the minister that he had discovered the missing letter as this would put his life in danger.

Therefore, convinced that he had found the letter he deliberately left his snuffbox in the minister's office as a way of guaranteeing him a visit the next day. He went home made a duplicate of the letter he had seen and made it exactly how it had been disguised. The next day he came back to the minister's office and they picked up their conversation where they had left it off, and this time Dupin was determined to get the stolen letter. A distraction was made outside the minister's office and he immediately rushed to see what it was and immediately he stood up, Dupin woke up and quickly exchanged the letter with the one he had duplicated. The minister came back to the seat and they continued with their conversation as if nothing had happened. After which Dupin left the Minister's office with the stolen letter. Dupin, however, did not just replace the letter with an anonymous message, but instead, the letter he left had a message which he knew would be traced back to him.


Dupin in this story is depicted as an odd, cunning and smart man because he is able to figure out the location of the missing letter. The logical powers enabled him to deduce that the letter had to be within the office, having a background knowledge of how mathematicians and poets behaved. He used that knowledge to find the letter and retrieve it.

Works Cited

Jeffrey, Mehlman as "Seminar on 'The Purloined Letter'" in "French Freud: Structural Studies in Psychoanalysis", Yale French Studies, No. 48 (1972).

Poe, Edgar A. The Purloined Letter. South Carolina: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016. Print.

The Purloined Letter': Poe's Detective Story vs. Panoptic Foucauldian Theory," Style, Summer 1990, Vol. 24, Issue 2, p. 201

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