107 Introduction to The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838) (2017)

John J. Bush III, Casey Ouellette, Marissa Vargas

Edgar Allen Poe is mostly known for his works of poetry and short stories, but he had only one novel that was finished and published, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838). Poe lived a very depressing life, with his first wife, Virginia, dying from tuberculosis at the age of twenty-four (the same way his mother and brother died), his mother dying when he was three, and his father leaving when he was born. Poe also suffered from alcohol addiction. These are seen as some of the biggest motives behind his deep and dark writings. His style of writing permeated through centuries and influenced many down the line. He inflicts his own feelings and struggles into his stories, such as The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.

Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket is not the most fortunate person. Neither is his best friend Augustus. Poe presents a narrative wherein these two find themselves on a perilous journey as they come across life and death obstacles. Their ship the Penguin crashes and they find themselves back in Nantucket. Later, after sneaking Pym on board another vessel named the Grampus, the ship is overthrown by murderous mutineers who are led by the cook. On board these boys encounter the mutineers as they fight for their next plan of action.

Ever since this book was published in 1838, many critics and scholars have shared their very different views on this gothic novel. Many scholars who have read The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket have claimed his story inspired the works of Herman Melville, Jules Verne and many more credited American authors. Some even argue that Melville’s “Benito Cereno” is inspired and based off of Poe’s novel. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket acts as a classic adventure story with creepy supernatural elements that have fascinated and influenced many subsequent writers.

If so many scholars have provided their opinions and analysis of Poe’s story, should it be anthologized? It is important that this novel is anthologized because it is a first-person narrative which gives a biased and one-sided view of the story. While reading a first-person narrative, readers don’t have the luxury to see all different sides to the story or from any one else’s point of view. As the saying goes: “There are two sides to every story.” Poe only shares what Pym sees, which leaves the readers unsure of anything else that could be happening around him in terms of context and what it could all mean. In an anthology, the readers are introduced to scholarly articles, excerpts, writings and biographies of the author. Once the reader is aware of all the writings and familiar with the author’s background, they can analyze and interpret the book in more depth and understand the context of the book.

This novel needs to be anthologized because scholars and readers have debated and wondered if Poe projected himself into the protagonist. It has been said that Poe based a lot of the events in his story off of his own experiences while off at sea. He originally intended on this book to be realistic and similar to his own journeys, but decided to write in more of a fictional way, which is another important topic. Why did Poe decide to take a risk writing a rather provocative and fantastical story and not stick to his basic work? Being provided with information on Poe, articles, and the history behind this book and its writing process, will allow his readers to comprehend and understand better why this story is put together the way it is, and conversely understand more about Poe himself.
A final reason for why this story should be anthologized is rooted in the argument of how and why this text is considered to be American literature. What about this story makes it American literature? The fact that this story is called The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and not just “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym” raises a lot of questions as to why maybe the title plays a role in this story being considered an american literature text. The emphasis put on Pym’s point of origin is important in creating an identity for Pym, and taking that identity with him beyond his home. It may be a story separated from America, but our main protagonist is characterized primarily by his citizenship as an American, particularly of Nantucket.


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The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: A PSU-Based Project Copyright © 2016 by John J. Bush III, Casey Ouellette, Marissa Vargas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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