The Purloined Letter, By Barbara Johnson Essay

The Purloined Letter, By Barbara Johnson Essay

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In Barbara Johnson’s “Writing”, she explains a part of Lacan’s interpretation of “The Purloined Letter”, saying “Neither the letter’s content (the never revealed signifier) nor the individual identities of the people (the psychological equivalent of Saussure’s ivory and wood chessmen) determine the course of the plot” (42). It is neither the scandal that is threatened nor those who are being threatened that dominate the plot, as is to be expected in so many mystery stories. Poe turns these expectations on its head, giving only the bare minimum needed to understand what is going on. In John T Irwin’s essay, “Detective Fiction as High Art”, he mentions a quote from Jorge Luis Borges, stating that “… the solution of a mystery is always less impressive than the mystery itself. Mystery has something of the supernatural about it… its solution, however, is always tainted by the slight of hand” (942). However, Poe’s “The Purloined Letter” manages to be satisfying in both its simplistic mystery and twist ending. He does this by avoiding the pomp and glamour usually associated with the initial mystery and giving us the simplest facts, in order to show us where the specific importance of detection and ultimately analysis truly lies.
The lack of a specific content-driven plot is seen primarily in the veil surrounding the purloined letter and in the lack of information given about any character except maybe Dupin. There are a number of roads Poe could have gone down, in relations to both of these ideas. With simply the content of the letter, there could have been so many interesting plot choices done here. Everyone has seen a Bond film or a Sherlock Holmes where it’s the specifics of the details that hold all the allure. However, in choosing ...


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...denying the proof in his letter to the Minister is impossible. His motives were hardly pure, sullied by a selfishness that we do not even get to entirely evaluate ourselves, as we are once again unaware of the specifics of the situation. So where does that leave the reader? If Dupin’s intelligence is the goal, if one is supposed to attempt to reach the same level of deduction, to strive to unravel the mystery as he does, why give him such a seemingly base morality? I think this is where the Realist interpretation comes into play. Dupin is not an ideal figure, Poe hardly ever wrote those. Dupin is multi-faceted in the same way the story is; trying to understand his character and expecting him to be the traditional protagonist hero is doing exactly what the Prefect and Police would have done. Instead there is more to it. Or, in this particular case there is less to it.

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