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The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket

from elisha717 - Monday, May 05, 2008
accessed 426 times

Edgar Alan Poe.

I had to write a 5 pg essay on this book. It brought up a very uncomfortable topic on the subject of cannibalism. I was wondering if anybody read this book and what they thought about it? For me the most interesting point is what people will do in order to survive, and it is not always as heroic as it sounds.

Ok! So, really my question on this book (which Edgar Allan Poe is not the easiest person to read), is do you ever think it is ok to eat another person in order for you to survive?

Basically, Pym is a stowaway on his friend's (Augustus's)ship. So Pym hides in the bottom of the boat while they get further off into the deep blue; however, Agustus doesn't come down to feed Pym after a few wks, so Pym almost dies of starvation and dyhydration. Up top, the ship has suffered a mutiney, and Augustus barely managed to survive with his life.

Poe is really good at giving every detail of the story (making you feel like you are really there, and since most of us have gone through our own experiences, our imaginations are quite well stocked with plenty of images to help us relate to what is being read [at least for meLol!].

My highlight in asking for your opinion falls when there are just 4 of them still alive and they are starving out in the sun with no food or water, out on the ocean with no idea of where they are. And one of the guys named Parker, suggests that they draw straws between which of them should be the meal that keeps the other 3 alive (Parker is the one that winds up getting chosen). Pym try's real hard to talk Parker out of bringing up this idea, but when the moment of picking the straws happens, and the choice is between Parker and Pym, Pym says that he has this automatic reaction of outrageous hatred for Parker and he can't help but wish that Parker gets chosen instead of Pym.

So, one of Poe's points for writing this story (amongst God knows what else), is how we have this inate "animal instincts" to survive no matter what the cost, and how even the most educated person can revert to these basic instincts when the body is just trying to survive.

My point on the subject is why would someone want to survive if it meant hurting another fellow human being? I am a very humanistic person and so I just wanted to know how different people felt on the issue (or if they ever even thought of it before)???

This was a new thought brought up by my prof, so I haven't explored the different range of answers,

Edgar Allan Poe, in his book, The Narrative Of Arthur Gordon Pym Of Nantucket, shocks a first time reader (not used to his style), when he goes into detail about Pym’s accounts of what he went through and what he saw during his time at sea. His tales are so graphic that civilized society probably never even thought that something like cannibalism could ever be an issue, and here he accounts for events that during this time of discovery and exploration of the world, in reality, could very likely be taking place. For example, take Poe’s account of Pym (and his starving crew), and how they reverted to cannibalism in order to survive.

Cannibalism is an action so barbaric and unthinkable that the partakers of this event would rather choose never to think about what happened to them, and what they had to do in order to survive. There is nothing heroic about eating another human being in order to survive. And even more than that is the fact of why someone would be so intent on living if it meant taking another human life in that form? (Taking aside the fact that there is a complete difference between protecting one’s life because of a predator, but there is no comparison to that of eating a fellow companion).

Poe does not tell the readers what real people are doing, (most people would choose not to believe it anyway), but Poe takes his time as he explains how something like cannibalism can actually take place. Poe makes the readers have “conflicting thoughts” about what they just read, he has the ability to actually make the readers feel uncomfortable with themselves; because one can almost understand the circumstances that can bring a person into making such an unthinkable choice, and by understanding, that means in a way one agrees, and by agreeing one almost has to admit that one might do the same thing if put in that situation. And then one starts to feel disgusted with one’s -self and with what one might actually do in order to survive.

Just like Pym, who comes from a family well-to-do, and he has the opportunity to get a good education and be quite successful in life; yet his fixation becomes in the adventures Augustus experiences at sea and in exploring unknown land. Like Pym says, “At last I could not help being interested in what he said, and by degrees I felt the greatest desire to go to sea” (3), and so Pym makes a decision of greater consequences than he could possibly be aware of.

First take stowaway Pym, who almost starves to death while he is in hiding in the bottom of the boat; here he suffers a lot of physical pain and he even came to the miserable realization that this might be his end. Pym’s details are so undesirable of what life was like while on his adventure, that there is no making his adventures sound better than they really are. In contrast, the reader of this book knows that at the time this narration is taking place, men everywhere are returning from adventurous explorations around the world, and just like Poe’s characters, and surely men of his time, who came back from their “heroic voyages,” and recounted the vast courage that was needed to survive; (and the truth be told what Pym and his crew went through took a lot of courage and nothing but sure will power to come out of this adventure alive). Yet the truth about what survival really means and the steps that are taken to ensure that they survive are not always as pleasant as one would like it to be.

And here in Pym’s narration, one of Poe’s underlying messages is exposing what humans are really capable of, and when faced with death, what even the noblest people will do, and how they will convince their mind that this is justifiable because of the circumstances; take for instance:
…He said that he knew very well all I had said was true, and to resort to such a course was the most horrible alternative that could enter into the human mind of man: but that he had now hung out as long as human nature would be sustained; that it was unnecessary for all to perish, when, by the death of one, it was possible, and even probable, that the rest might finally be preserved; (78)

A very interesting philosophy that Poe has his character, Pym, enumerate in, The Narrative Of Arthur Gordon Pym Of Nantucket, is to why killing and eating another human being might not be so bad. Like what one of the characters in his novel says, “that it was unnecessary for all to perish, when, by the death of one …the rest might finally be preserved” (78). And Pym who grows up in a good home and has a good education (before he ran away from home), still reverts to “devouring” Parker’s flesh with not too much thought or emotion involved, “we devoured the body piecemeal” (81). Here they are” devouring” part of a man they had spent quite a surmountable time with, and no remorse was shown while they turn to their “animalistic instincts” for survival.

When Pym and his group, partake in the picking of straws, to see who would be the one chosen to meet such a savage end (81), their little group partakes of the unimaginable, and thus, creates an immoral bond between the survivors. And in the moment when Pym, Augustus, Peter, and Parker are deciding their fate, Pym’s telling words grips the heart of the reader for its absolute accuracy, “At this moment all the fierceness of the tiger possessed my bosom, and I felt toward my fellow creature Parker, the most intense, diabolical hatred” (81), human instincts settles in and no matter how hard one may try not to feel this savage feeling, (and just like Pym when his life was hanging onto Parkers choice of which straw he picks), keeps his eyes closed and with every breath he takes, his thoughts are consumed with hatred toward Parker and salvation for himself. And now that this act has been done, there is no going back; and now, this act of survival is a deed that has been done; (and is even worth killing over, just to keep its secret).

Thus, this “emotional cannibalism” continues, and will continue, as long as the human instincts will go to all lengths to survive. And just like Poe’s underlying tone in, The Narrative Of Arthur Gordon Pym Of Nantucke brings out; how even the most honorable human beings do not know how they will react if they are to experience these exact same circumstances. And it is interesting to note how they might react if they are to survive an adventure such as Pym’s, and if they are ever going tell anyone about what really happened? Or would the unpleasant memories be the memories forgotten? And is it a form of trying to survive by forgetting?

Works Cited
Barker, Phil. “Cognitive Dissonance.” Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Reseach Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: September 2003
Poe, Edgar Allan. The Narration of Arthur Pym of Nantucket. 2005. Dover Publications, Inc., N.Y. 11501

Reader's comments on this article

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from . .
Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 14:33

When writing something this long, put two spaces after the periods. Makes it easier on the eyes.
(reply to this comment)
From not necessarily a good thing...
Tuesday, May 06, 2008, 19:28

Agree/Disagree?) to this comment
From elisha717
Wednesday, May 07, 2008, 06:25


Country, huh?(reply to this comment

From elisha717
Tuesday, May 06, 2008, 16:58


Thanks for the tip. But that is something I do Know. I don't know if you have heard of something like web editor, not sure exactly what their name is?? I always do double spaces after periods, and I even double space the lines, and I use 12 point- New Romans. MLA format. "Purdue'"is a good web site to check for that info. (not that you want to know).

I wouldn't have gotten an A on my paper if I didn't use that format.(reply to this comment

From vix
Tuesday, May 06, 2008, 15:19


Neez ought to pipe up any moment now.

(reply to this comment

from rainy
Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 14:15

Cool, I have the complete works. I haven't read that one, maybe I will tonight. The original Stephen King! *Ducks for cover*
(reply to this comment)
From elisha717
Wednesday, May 07, 2008, 05:56


What types of authors are you the most familiar with (besides the one you mentioned! Lol!)? I am very interested in hearing about other books people have read, and hearing the opinion of what the reader think! I have a few old friends who are Stephen King fanatics, I wish I could say I have read his material, but I haven't, but he does offer quite a lot of "food for thought".

Since I will be having to write a lot of papers (especially when I start working on my Ph.D, which I still have a few years to go!), any interesting topics you may have I will be bery interested in reading. I don't have a lot of time to read a lot of books (as I am sure none of us do) so I would love to hear what you have to say!

E(reply to this comment

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