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Racism in Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym

Powerful Essays
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 pro...

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...cing the Shadow; Poe and Race, Kennedy, J.G. and Weissberg, L. (eds.), (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001)

- Jones, P.C., ‘Slavery and Abolitionism’, In Edgar Allan Poe in Context, Hayes, K.J. (ed.), (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013)

- Kennedy, J.G., ‘Trust No Man; Poe, Douglass, and the Culture of Slavery’, In Romancing the Shadow; Poe and Race, Kennedy, J.G. and Weissberg, L. (eds.), (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001)

- Poe, E.A., The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)

- Rudoff, S., ‘Written in Stone: Slavery and Authority in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym’, In ATQ, Vol. 14 No.1, (March 2000)

- Whalen, T., ‘Average Racism; Poe, Slavery, and the Wages of Literary Nationalism’, In Romancing the Shadow; Poe and Race, Kennedy, J.G. and Weissberg, L. (eds.), (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001)
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