The Gold-Bug Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1843

Type of work: Short fiction

Type of plot: Detective and mystery

Time of work: Early nineteenth century

Locale: South Carolina

Characters DiscussedThe Narrator

The Gold-Bug, TheNarrator, who relates the story of William Legrand’s discovery of Captain Kidd’s treasure. He fears for a time that his friend is going out of his mind because of Legrand’s peculiar behavior when he finds a piece of parchment that eventually leads him to a fortune of more than a million and a half dollars in gold and jewels.

William Legrand

William Legrand, a young man of good family from New Orleans who has taken up residence in a hut on Sullivan’s Island, near Charleston, South Carolina, because his family fortune is gone. He spends his time fishing, hunting, and searching for specimens of shells and insects to add to his collection. One day he finds a peculiar new beetle, gold in color, and a piece of old parchment. His behavior becomes very peculiar for about a month. Later, helped in his digging by his servant and the narrator, he uncovers a rich buried treasure. Legrand then reveals that he has played a joke on the narrator and Jupiter: Realizing that they thought he was going crazy, he led them on by acting peculiarly. Legrand’s solving of the cryptograph on the parchment shows that he has rare intelligence as well as a sense of humor.


Jupiter, a manumitted slave who once belonged to the Legrand family. After being freed, he stays as a servant and has followed William Legrand to Sullivan’s Island. He is devoted and loyal to his master, as much a trusted associate as a servant. Like the narrator, Jupiter is fearful that Legrand is losing his mind.

Lt. G–––

Lt. G–––, an army officer stationed at Fort Moultrie. He is a friend of Legrand and very much interested in entomology. He is fascinated by the gold beetle discovered on Sullivan’s Island by Legrand.

BibliographyDavidson, Edward H. Poe: A Critical Study. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1966. One of the most important philosophic studies of Poe’s work. Presents Poe as basically a religious writer in that he becomes his own god, his own supreme maker of prophecies and parables.Hassell, J. Woodrow, Jr. “The Problem of Realism in ‘The Gold-Bug.’” American Literature 25 (May, 1953): 179-192. Includes a discussion of how fantasy and realism are blended and sometimes in conflict in “The Gold-Bug.” Shows how Poe was able to give an appearance of reality to the fanciful elements in the story.Kempton, Daniel. “The Gold/Goole/Ghoul Bug.” Emerson Society Quarterly 33 (1987): 1-19. Interesting study of the basic logical/aesthetic pattern of “The Gold-Bug”; notes that the protagonist of the story looks on the world as if it were an encoded message written for the elect by the hand of God.Kennedy, J. Gerald. Poe, Death, and the Life of Writing. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1987. A useful study of the nature of writing in Poe’s stories and the relationship of writing to death. Important for understanding pattern and interpretation in “The Gold-Bug.”Williams, Michael. “The Language of the Cipher: Interpretation in ‘The Gold-Bug.’” In Edgar Allan Poe: A Study of the Short Fiction, edited by Charles May. New York: Twayne, 1991. Excellent study of Poe’s philosophic interest in the power of language and his tactic of embedding interpretative strategies within his stories.
Categories: Characters