The Gold Bug | Study Guide

Edgar Allan Poe

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The Gold Bug | Symbols


The Gold Bug

When Legrand finds the bug, he feels certain it will restore his fortune, particularly after Jupiter insists the heavy insect is not just gold in appearance, but made of real gold: "De bug is a goole bug, solid, ebery bit of him." However, this mysterious gold bug gives concrete meaning to the proverb, "all that glitters is not gold." Both men place so much value in the bug they immediately regret lending it to the neighbor, Lieutenant G. A bit later in the story, Legrand insists, "The bug is to make my fortune ... to reinstate me in my family possessions" perhaps because the beetle is seemingly made of gold, or perhaps because it is a newly discovered species. Legrand keeps the bug in a safe box and later, attached to a string in his pocket. By the end of the story, however, it's revealed that the gold bug was simply used to manipulate the narrator into joining Legrand on a journey for buried treasure: "I felt somewhat annoyed by your evident suspicions touching my sanity, and so resolved to punish you quietly."

The Death's Head

The death's head, or skull, represents piracy; the image of a skull (and crossbones) on a black flag identified a ship as a pirate ship. This is the shape Captain Kidd drew on his treasure map, and coincidentally, also the shape of the markings on the gold bug's back, which adds to the mystery surrounding it. Rather than a symbol of death, the death's head in this tale becomes a symbol of fortune. First, Legrand notices the strange skull-shaped markings on the beetle's back and thinks discovering the new species will bring him fame (and ultimately fortune). Second, the skull-shaped outline Legrand draws on the parchment helps to reveal a treasure map. Finally, the skull used as a landmark on Kidd's map leads to an actual skull that sits in a tree directly above the hidden treasure and is critical to its discovery.

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