The Gold Bug is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe that could be considered a detective story rather than a mystery.
The story is set on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina. The period is the (early) 1840s. The area holds significance to Poe as he was enlisted at Fort Moltrie—located on Sullivan’s Island—in November 1827.
The primary cast is William Legrand, the main character. He was New Orleans resident who had a quite a fortune before becoming broke. He moved to South Carolina where he is a naturalist and spends his days collecting insects and such for his collection. It is this hobby that leads him to find the titular gold beetle. Another hobby of Legrand’s is solving riddles.
The narrator is a physician and friend of William Legrand. Lieutenant is an inhabitant of Sullivan’s Island and is stationed at Ft. Moultrie. Jupiter is a freed slave who is loyal to Legrand as his servant and sidekick—or however one chooses to define their relationship. Finally there is “Old Negro Woman”; she assists William Legrand in finding the site of the codes which supposedly lead to the treasure.
The Gold Bug is basically setup in three parts. The story was also published in three parts at first printing. There’s the introduction of sorts which gives the reader the importance of the gold beetle, the middle passage is the meat of the story and features the quest to find the treasure. The conclusion wraps everything up and answers whatever questions brought on by the second passage.
The power of reason is one of the main themes of The Gold Bug as it is the means of which code is deciphered and the treasure is found. The clues given to Legrand are extremely vague and the narrator—a physician—who initially views Legrand has having a diminished state brought on by his destitute state sees that Legrand is actually of sound mind. Another theme that is counter to the power of reason is superstition, displayed by Jupiter. The two themes play off of each other and sometimes raise Legrand’s temper at Jupiter’s responses in situations.
Jupiter—who plays an important role in the story as Legrand’s loyal servant and companion—finds some paper to wrap up the bug, however it turns out that the paper is actually map to a hidden treasure. Also in the matter of the titular gold bug, had Legrand not run into the Lieutenant—which allowed him to hold on to the gold bug he wouldn’t have drawn the bug on the paper to show the narrator. Also when the narrator sits near the fire, the chemicals in the secret map are activated. The fire itself is a product of chance as it was cold for that particular day.
The story reaches its climax when the destitute Legrand and company find the treasure chest.