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n Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, a crucial statement is declared about how he views the inner workings of men, as well as how men interact with women in society. The narrative is based around the horrific murder of two defenseless women, which seems to have been committed by a mystery “beast”. Poe demonstrates the primitive violent forces that exist within people, particularly men, which have the ability to escape in shocking ways, often against a woman. Poe uses violence as a negative, inhumane act, in order to reinforce the innate brutal impulses that are just under the surface of all male beings.


Poe describes where the “Ourang-Outang” was originally taken from, with intent to embody the primitive undeveloped qualities in man. After being taken from an Indian Archipelago, Borneo, the Ourang-Outang is brought back to Paris, where he begins to obtain human characteristics simply by watching his master and learning through imitation. An example of this would be when the sailor comes back to his room and finds the Ourang-Outang “Razor in hand, and fully lathered, [it was] sitting before the looking-glass, attempting the operation of shaving, in which it had no doubt previously watched its master though the key-hole of the closet.”(Poe 120) When the beast becomes terrified, and escapes with the razor still in his hand, he is depicting the idea of a man’s inner “beast” getting loose when he fears a situation. During the scene when the Ourang-Outang “was flourishing the razor about her [Madame L’Espanaye’s] face, imitating the motions of a barber”(121), the beast is thinking just like a human man. He is even using a human tool in order to commit these atrocious murders, which is indicative of Poe’s notion that all men are capable of performing horrible deeds at a time when their animalistic impulses take over.


There is a stark contrast presented between civilized behavior and the primitive behavior that these slaughters suggest. The murders are so horrid and revolting that it does not seem conceivable that a human would have the ability to do the things that were done. Some of the evidence collected from the murder site included, “ two or three long and thin tresses of gray human hair that seemed to have been pulled out by the roots.” (99) Likewise, “the body [of the old lady], as well as the head, was fearfully mutilated-the former so much so as scarcely to retain any semblance of humanity.” (100) In response to these pieces of evidence gathered, the detective, Dupin, says that the killer has “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.” (115) Here Poe is describing what a shocking murder an uncivilized animal is capable of. Here he is specifically talking about the Ourang-Outang, but he has already symbolically suggested the Ourang-Outang is like man.


In addition, Poe shows the natural emotion of shame a man feels when someone catches him in the process of doing something wrong, demonstrated when he says “conscious of having deserved punishment, it seemed desirous of concealing its bloody deeds, and, skipped about the chamber in an agony of nervous agitation; throwing down and breaking the furniture as it moved, and dragging the bed from the bedstead.” Then, the Ourang-Outang realizes his faults and tries to conceal then, as would any man, exemplified by the statement “it seized first the corpse of the daughter, and thrust it up the chimney, as it was found; then that of the old lady, which it immediately hurled through the window headlong.” (122) Within this specific scene of the story, Poe is able to show that the man and Ourang-Outang are very similar in the way they deal with the situation. The navy man runs away from the scene as soon as he sees what the Ourang-Outang has done, and likewise, when the Ourang-Outang hears voices outside the room, he quickly runs away so he is not caught. It seems as though it is very hard for people to face up to what they have done, which is why Poe focuses on the sailor when he asks him what he knows about the murders. He emphasizes the way the “sailors face flushed up as if he were struggling with suffocation; as well as how he fell back into his seat, trembling violently, and with the countenance of death itself.” (119) Both are afraid to face reality showing how they have similar thoughts and therefore connecting them to the same origin.


Poe is to emphasize the fact that women are helpless in a situation in which they are being violently preyed upon. He tells how the old lady and daughter were “very affectionate towards each other.” (100), as well as stating that “the old lady was like a child.” (101) Here the reader gets a picture of a weak old lady and her sweet defenseless daughter. Poe then goes on to mention how the “daughter lay prostrate and motionless” (121), while her mother screamed and struggled only managing to rip out some of the Ourang-Outang’s hair. He uses this information to show that women are defenseless against the central brute located in all men, making a connection between the story and how life really was in the South, which is where Poe lived. The Ourang-Outang did not take any of its fear or anger out on its master, because the master had a whip, and in turn had more power, just as all men have over any woman.


The violent behavior of Poe’s representation of man is a vast contrast with the intellectual behavior of the investigator present in the story. He states that “As the strong man exults in his physical ability, delighting in such exercises as call his muscles into action, so glories the analyst in the moral activity which disentangles.” (92) Poe is trying to make the difference clear between the intellect and the beast. He is saying that the one who analyzes keeps to himself and thinks, while the brute with strength utilizes the power. In society, it is the cerebral beings that are looked at strangely by others, which is declared by Poe when he says, “had the routine of our life at this place been known to the world, we should have been regarded as madmen-although, perhaps, as madmen of a harmless nature.” (95) Here he is desperately trying to show the immense divergence in the inner workings of a man’s mind, which he does quite well with the Ourang-Outang representing man, as well as having Dupin, a genius, solving the crime committed. Dupin is the epitome of civilization, while in direct contrast is the beast, whom is completely barbaric and uncivilized.


Throughout the tale, Poe is able to show how all men have animalistic impulses deep down, while demonstrating how these rages are often taken out on defenseless women. He then goes on to show the contrast between man as civilized and logical, against man as uncultured and thoughtless. Poe demonstrates how either type of man can exist, yet poses the question of whether it is possible for both characteristics to be exhibited simultaneously in a single man.

Works Cited
1. Poe, Edgar Allan. Selected Tales. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 1998.

 

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