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Racism In Poe's The Narrative Of Arthur Gordon Pym

2051 words - 8 pages

Poe’s writing is often accused of racism; to what extent does The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym fit with this characterisation?
NEED 100 or more words – Introduction in PYM about audience and commercial.

The works of Poe have often been considered to have underlying tones of racism throughout with The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, to a large extent, being seen to fit this characterisation. However, it can also be argued to some extent that the novel is not a work of racism, which can be shown in a number of areas. The characterisation of racism within the novel has been suggested to come about through two means. The first is that of Poe’s personal views which can be seen to arise from his southern connections and also the fact he himself owned slaves. The second, as suggested by the critic Terence Whalen, to be racisms “economic influence over both literary and commercial calculations” (Whalen, 33).
As identified by J. Gerald Kennedy, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym is a “story brimming with defiance and replete scenes of rebellion and treachery” (Kennedy, 237). Flooding the pages of this novel, the rebellions to a large extent fit perfectly with the racist characterisation give to Poe’s works; in particular the role rebellions have upon the commercial interests of the novel. While Pym, the protagonist of the novel, is enclosed in the bowls of the brig Grampus, certain members of the crew stage a successful mutiny. Poe’s specific focus on two of the mutineers, out of the many who partook, can to a large extent show the racism that engulfs this novel. The black cook, labelled earlier in the novel as a “negro”, is described as “a perfect demon” who finds excitement in “the most horrible butchery” (Poe, 36, 38, 37). In providing this horrifying imagery and mind-set to the cook Poe has created Pym to believe he is racially superior to the cook. Specifically using the word Negro presents the idea that he is below that of Pym due to this plainly being pointed out. Furthering this point Dirk Peters, the son of an Indian woman and a white fur trader is also given a demonic image by Pym due to his ‘tainted’ blood. However, Dirk Peters is “the main instrument in preserving the life of Augustus” (Ibid, 39). The way Peters is described as being of Indian and White decent plays perfectly into the racist character of Poe’s work. The black cook, inhumane and demonic; Dirk Peters, half demonic half saviour.
Contrastingly, the mutiny to a small extent can display the idea that the work is not a piece of racism. The mutiny that occurs is conducted not only by black and mixed birth members, but also by white members of the crew; such as the first mate. In constructing the mutiny to contain a number of different racial backgrounds, it displays the fact that not only non-whites are savage and treacherous but whites can be too; thus counteracting the racist standpoint. Although this stance can be argued to a small degree, the matter of the fact is Poe focuses...

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