Contribution of Edgar Allen Poe to Detective Fiction

Human nature is the combination of good and evil. When we resort to evil to appease our instincts and do such things as are prohibited by our society, we become trapped into the web of evil that tempts us to commit some crimes. Sometimes these evil designs make the culprit commit some heinous crimes such as murder. Such instances of abnormal behavior are the popular subject of story writers who try to explore the sources of evil in the inner recesses of human mind. Furthermore, the element of mystery attached to these acts and the intelligence and immaculate reasoning of the person who solves these entangled mysteries also intrigue readers to take interest in such type of stories. The detective story genre deals with this dark side of human nature and tells how wise men unearth these mysteries and hidden crimes through their genius. The instances of detective fiction can be found in many languages and a claim about the true origin can be very difficult. But there seems to be consensus on the issue that Edgar Allen Poe through his “tales of ratiocination” initiated a new genre in the form of detective fiction and also contributed to the development of type of fiction by providing models for plot, setting and characterization. The later writers followed the lines set by Edgar Allen Poe and took this form to its perfection.Before going into the details of Poe’s contribution to this specific genre, it would be pertinent to define the nature and basic features/elements of a detective story. A detective story deals with a mystery about some act of murder or crime which is investigated by an intelligent detective who with the help of some clues and hints open the entangled knots of mystery. Such type of stories contain certain basic elements without which the story cannot be written. It was through his detective stories of Dupin, Poe set the following three primary parameters for a detective story: detective, element of mystery or suspense, investigation. These elements were, for the first time, combined into the stories of Edgar Allen Poe.Edgar Allen Poe was originally a gothic writer who dealt with the themes of horror and terror concerning the dark side of human nature. In his story “The Cask of Amontillado,” Poe presents a vindictive person who in order to take revenge, traps his friend and takes him to some mysterious horrible setting where he sets up a wall of bones around his friend and forces him to die of a choking death. The environment of suspense and mystery depicted in such stories was seemingly providing a ground for detective stories which culminated in Poe’s tales of ratiocination. Rachman states that Poe’s “tales of ratiocination” qualify as the first instances of detective fiction. These include “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Mystery of Marie Roget” and “The Purloined Letter.” These were written “in the early mid 1840s” (17). In these stories Poe presented Auguste Dupin who had the power of solving mysteries. That man became a prototype for detective stories. Dilating upon the features of a detective story, Rachman observes: Even readers will recognize many of the features of the detective genre in its classic or analytic form: the metropolitan setting, the violent crime scene in an apparently locked room, the vain, befuddled law enforcement official, the wronged suspect, the confession, the cleverly convoluted solution. Through these stories Poe had given the form its initial shape, created its first great detective (17). In this connection, Arthur Canon Doyle, the famous creator of the character of Sherlock Holmes, owes much to Poe and acknowledges this debt: “If every man who received a cheque for a story which owed its springs to Poe were to pay tithe to a monument for the master, for he would have a pyramid as big as that of Chepos” (Panek 80).

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