The Readers Review: Literature from 1714 to 1910 discussion

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2020 Group Reads - Archives > Arthur Gordon Pym Week 4: Chapters 20 to end

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message 1: by Rosemarie, Moderator (last edited Jan 22, 2020 09:39AM) (new)

Rosemarie | 2803 comments Mod
We have now reached the final segment of the book and things just keep getting worse and worse, including the occasional boring bits.
I really don't need to know how to preserve a biche de mer (sea cucumber), but I would like to know why the natives fear the colour white.

What bad decisions do the crew and captain make? Is there any way they could have avoided the disaster?
What do Arthur and Peters find in the cave? How do they escape from the cave and from the natives?

For the book as a whole:
What elements of the story give it an air of weirdness or mystery?
What parts of the story hinder the development of the plot?
What could Poe have done to improve the story?
How about the ending? I thought it left a lot unresolved with too many unanswered questions?

Please feel free to comment on anything you like regarding this book.


message 2: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 270 comments The ending was not as good as was the beginning. Poe's forte is surely his short stories. We cannot shame him for not know about the Antarctica but this story is dated. A product from their time. But, it is a thrilling adventure, of course.


message 3: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2803 comments Mod
There were some very exciting moments when they were trapped in the cave, and afterwards too.


message 4: by Emma (last edited Jan 25, 2020 02:44AM) (new)

Emma (emmalaybourn) | 298 comments Well! What a very strange conclusion to an increasingly strange book. Having turned itself back into an adventure story about escape from savages - which could have been set anywhere - the narrative changes once or twice into a geology textbook, and then becomes a nautical diary once more. The whole thing ends in a scene of mysticism, which is meant to be awe-inspiring but which I found more frustrating than anything else because of the lack of explanation. The notes at the end only add to the confusion; the discussion about the fear of whiteness has an academic tone but adds nothing to my understanding of the novel.

So I'm at a bit of a loss as to Poe's intentions. Was the mystical ending just a way of getting out of a story he did not know how to finish? Did he run out of time or ideas, or does it represent some deeper philosophy?

Given the patchwork nature of the book as a whole I'm inclined it think it was a mixture of these. It seems Poe started the book in an attempt to gain the literary success that had eluded him with his short stories (so says Wikipedia); but he decided to intersperse his own imaginative narrative with huge chunks of factual writing (filler?), and a long crowd-pleasing adventure involving stereotyped savages.

Apart from the piecemeal nature of the book, it suffers from the lack of interest in any particular character. As Lori pointed out in the previous section, Augustus is forgotten and unmourned after his death; and even Peters, who accompanies the narrator to the end, is pretty much undescribed - we have no sense of him as a person. The plot is paramount, but unfortunately is not a very satisfactory one. While I'm glad to have read this book I don't think I'll ever feel the need to to read it again.


message 5: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2803 comments Mod
Emma, you have summed up my feelings about the book!


message 6: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 270 comments Emma did it for me too.


message 7: by Brian (last edited Jan 26, 2020 11:24AM) (new)

Brian Reynolds | 701 comments I am glad I read it as it is Poe's best novel (and worst). It is also valuable as a piece of literary history as I was unaware that Poe wrote a book that would be an influence on Verne. I now better understand why Poe is cited as a great influence on Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness.
But the story itself is a wild ride and a bit of a mess. Actually, more than a bit. While I am normally tolerant of racist, anti Semitic and/or chauvinistic characterizations as being reflective of the times, the depictions of the natives and the cook in this book are a bit extreme. I agree with Poe's own assessment that the novel was "a very silly book,"


message 8: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4467 comments Mod
I’m not quite finished but wanted to share a note from my copy.

Everything is physically black or white to supposedly capture the colors of Antarctica. Yet, the whole native segments feels like it happens in a jungle to me. The colors also depict the prevalent accepted racism of the time.

I found the book to be somewhat frustrating. In much need of a strong editing. My copy indicates Poe was asked to write a novel by his publisher as novels were all the rage. He was reluctant to do so. After completing the first few chapters, the publisher fired him.


message 9: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2803 comments Mod
One detail that freaked me out a bit was that the natives had black teeth.


message 10: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4467 comments Mod
Rosemarie wrote: "One detail that freaked me out a bit was that the natives had black teeth."

Plus the non existence of white makes no sense as there is supposedly harsh winter. Smh


message 11: by Lori, Moderator (new)

Lori Goshert (lori_laleh) | 1321 comments Mod
Yeah, what the hell? Really, what the hell?

The ending was abrupt. The abrupt ending (no explanation of how they got home) makes it sound like Arthur died after he saw the white being (was it an angel or something?), or that he was somehow going into the afterlife. But it said at the beginning that he survived and told his story to Poe. But then, as mentioned, Poe likely didn't know the ending when he started the work, and he wasn't able to revise it like novelists today do.

I did kind of enjoy the fanciful descriptions of the south pole, knowing those areas were largely unknown at that time and Poe could write whatever he wanted. I wonder if readers will laugh at our sci-fi books about space and space travel in 100 years.

I wonder if the inhabitants of that island had had a previous encounter with that white animal or seen the falling white matter during their travels and had passed on a fear of the color white. But then not much about this book makes sense.

I'd say this was an overall bad novel with a few excellent "Poe-ish" episodes.

I've been reading the complete works of Lovecraft off and on over the past few years, and I think the next story is "At the Mountains of Madness," so it will be interesting to compare. But knowing Lovecraft, he will have kept the black/brown people in the tale and there will be much stronger racism (even though he lived later), so I'm dreading that a bit.


message 12: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2803 comments Mod
At the Mountains of Madness has a much better structure and plot. It makes me think of the movie The Thing.


message 13: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4467 comments Mod
Lori wrote: "Yeah, what the hell? Really, what the hell?

The ending was abrupt. The abrupt ending (no explanation of how they got home) makes it sound like Arthur died after he saw the white being (was it an a..."


I agree with you.


message 14: by Frances, Moderator (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1818 comments Mod
Well, that was certainly unexpected. This was an interesting read, and some background about Poe as well in the intro makes me want to reread a few of his short stories, but I would say I mostly agree with Lori here Yeah, what the hell? Really, what the hell? pretty much sums up how I felt on finishing.


message 15: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2803 comments Mod
His short stories are so much better. I think he ran out of ideas or stamina.


message 16: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4467 comments Mod
Frances wrote: "Well, that was certainly unexpected. This was an interesting read, and some background about Poe as well in the intro makes me want to reread a few of his short stories, but I would say I mostly ag..."

I agree. I enjoy his short stories, and the first few chapters of this seemed similar. Then somehow it just went to crap.


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