113 Ultimate Destroyer

Nathan Theriault

The role of non-human entities in Poe’s Pym

In Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (NAGPN), non-human entities play a very important role in the forward momentum of the plot line. At multiple different incidents, we see animals either saving the castaways, and then alternately trying to kill them. This is very similar to the way the men on board the ship, go back and forth with their own loyalties as well. We can see how these animals emulate the humanistic quality of survival that pits the stranded men against one another, and forces them to cannibalize one of their own. Another role of animals in NAGPN is to create a sense of truthfulness to the narrative. Much like even earlier novels Poe uses a sort of scientific way of describing things to emphasis a false truth to other areas of the story. Poe may even be attempting to parody these earlier works, since he addresses the two writers involved; himself and Arthur Gordon Pym, in the very beginning, and subverts his own authenticity in the process.

Non-human entities also create an economic need to explore, travel, and investigate all manner of new and unknown places. This validates the journey of the ship of Captain Guy, and creates a more believable reason to travel into the arctic. One of the non-human entities that comes up the most is the Tortoise. Usually referred to as the Galapagos tortoise, no matter where the characters are, they are often described with a great sense of awe, “what greatly astonished us, that the islands abounded in the large tortoise of the Galapagos (166)”. Even though they have seen these great turtles in so many different places they are continuously seen as amazing creatures, and perhaps these represent some sort of subtle omen on the part of Poe as to the eventual end of our main characters. The tortoise is seen as a pinnacle of defense, but also as a means of sustenance, and the rigidity in which they carried themselves is shrouded by the strength of humanity. Even though these creatures create a powerful image, they are helpless, just like all other things become helpless when faced with the ultimate destroyer of the world, man.


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The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: A PSU-Based Project Copyright © 2016 by Nathan Theriault is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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