A Hint of Irony


For the first time, I found Poe’s work to be completely over the top and unrealistic given its context. Unlike other Poe stories, such as “The Oval Portrait”, in which deaths occur in supernatural ways, the deaths in this story were meant to portray those of a realistic detective case.  However, in the end, readers discover that the murderer is, unrealistically, a monkey. In “The Oval Portrait”, the woman dies because her husband paints her perfectly, a sign that an attractive woman cannot be immortal. This story plays with supernatural and abstract ideas such as immortal beauty and eternal legacies. On the other hand, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” the first detective story written, urges readers to look at the story analytically and become a detective themselves. This is a much more grounded, lifelike story, however the ending is ironic when Poe expects readers believe that a giant monkey escaped his owner, climbed a pole, bust through a window, and brutally attacked two women. Describing the orangutan as having “an agility astounding, a strength superhuman, a ferocity brutal, a butchery without motive, a grotesquerie in horror absolutely alien from humanity, and a voice foreign in tone to the ears of men of many nations, and devoid of all distinct or intelligible syllabification” is simply absurd, and even the sailor says admits that he does “not expect you to believe one half (he) say(s)” and that he “would be a fool indeed if (they) did.” Clearly, while there are the themes of isolation and gloom, the perishing of women, and the attraction to the inner working of the mind, all common in Poe’s writing, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is different. Because the readers are engaged in a seemingly earthly and non-mystical story that suddenly ends up using an orangutan as the murderer, I felt as though there was a hint of jest and irony in the story. I believe that Poe is making fun of his own writing. Normally, Poe’s pieces are dark, dramatic, and gothic because they are supernatural or ghostly. When Poe tried to write a more realistic murder mystery, he made fun of it because it is not his style, and therefore the ending is simply ridiculous, silly, and too over the top for the realistic vibe he was going for. Poe was putting a spin on his classic writing by purposefully making the ending to the mystery and hideousness of the crime overly emphasized.

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2 comments

  1. I like how you compared the two causes of death in “The Oval Portrait” and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” While reading this post, it occurred to me that Poe might have wanted the reader to concentrate more on the significance of death than on the cause. I thought it was interesting when you interpreted the death of the wife in “The Oval Portrait” as “a sign that an attractive woman cannot be immortal.” Another message that the author could have been trying to convey with her death is that beauty never lasts. This may have been a reflection on Poe’s own life. He might have been feeling that happiness and beauty came and went too quickly in his life, especially since he was writing this when he knew his lover had tuberculosis and would die soon. She (the beauty in Poe’s life) would fade and die the same way the painter’s wife did. All that would be left of her would be the flawless memory or portrait of her in his mind’s eye.

    The seemingly unrealistic occurrence of the murdering orangutan in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” may have also represented something in Poe’s life. It might have represented fate. Maybe Poe felt like something big and destructive like a giant orangutan was destroying his life or well-being as it did the lives of the mother and child. It could have represented a critic who tore apart his work with criticism making his writings hard to sell. The dead mother and child could have represented those he loved who had died and the devastated room might have represented his life in general.

    Another interpretation of why Poe inserted the orangutan could have been to make fun of his readers or publisher rather than of his own writing. He might have been wondering why he had to throw in a monster of an orangutan in order to capture the interest of his easily bored readers and have his work published.

    If Poe had any of the same opinions as the character Sherlock Holmes from Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlet,” he might have thought that every crime under the sun had already been committed and there was nothing new that could possibly happen. This might have been one reason for the absurd orangutan twist. He wanted his story to be original, so he added something so strange it would be nearly impossible to have it happen in real life.

  2. In my opinion, the orangutan has significance because it is an extraordinary pay off for an extraordinary murder and mystery. More often than not, the explanation for extraordinary mysteries is a surprisingly mundane series of events, for example what was thought to be a monster just turns out to be a man in a costume. Poe flips the script with this mystery, making the explanation even crazier than what the reader was expecting. The orangutan is what makes this mystery different, memorable, and timeless. Also, I respectfully disagree that an orangutan being responsible for this is “absurd.” Many a freak accident has happened where an ape owned by a human has caused brutal, fatal deaths due to their strength and ferocity. And considering how lax exotic animal ownership was during Poe’s time, I don’t consider an orangutan murder to be an ironic or ridiculous scenario.

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