The Gold Bug by Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "The Gold Bug", misleads readers in many ways. Indeed, the namesake of the piece, the gold bug, is significant to the plot only for its ability to mislead the reader. This article investigates the false narrative concern with unusual insects, magic and madness that masks this story's true plot, which is about one man's quest to break a pirate code and discover buried treasure. Poe bestows false importance on the bug from the beginning. He takes every opportunity to embellish its description. For instance, he points out that the bug is golden, almost as if it were made of gold. He also adds suspense by delaying its appearance. In its absence, Legrand draws a picture of the bug to show his guest, the narrator, who sees a skull in place of the picture. This draws the reader to the conclusion that the impossible must have happened and that the bug's role is important.

When the bug bites Legrand and details of his irrational behavior emerges, the reader is led to believe that the two events are connected. These events are not connected and there is no reason to believe that Legrand is mad. It is Jupiter, Legrand's freed slave, who reports that Legrand has been bitten and declares that Legrand is mad. Besides, when Jupiter stuffs up the bug's mouth, the reader is forced to question Jupiter's sanity, an odd reaction in itself. These events make both Legrand and Jupiter appear quite mad to the reader.

Furthermore, among the three characters, only Legrand proves to be a reliable authority. No wonder all the other characters play along with his plan. For instance, the narrator, just like the reader, is also in the dark about the unfolding events. Jupiter too plays along with Legrand's plan, which involves him climbing a tree holding the bug and dropping it through the eye of the skull to the ground. He does this to pinpoint where to start the dig for treasure. However, the use of the bug here is again insignificant. A stone would have sufficed.

Unnecessary details, an unreliable narrator and the unconventional withholding of evidence until the end of the plot are all factors that contribute to the misleading of the reader. However, it could be argued that these plot devices all contribute to a more satisfactory outcome as they bring relief and rational explanation to the confusion that leads up to it.