46 pages 1 hour read

Edgar Allan Poe

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1838

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Appearance Versus Reality

Throughout the novel, people, places, and situations are rarely what they seem to be. It is populated by disguises, secrets, sudden shifts, and outright deceptions. In many scenes, characters realize that their initial assumptions about each other are untrue or that a condition they once believed was stable or predictable is, in fact, wildly different than it seemed. The novel uses this tension between appearance and reality to create an absurd narrative universe that mirrors the absurdities of the actual world. Its emphasis on instability and illegibility also places it in a larger literary and philosophical conversation about whether objective truth exists at all and, if so, whether it is accessible to the human mind.

One significant example of the conflict between appearance and reality occurs when Pym pretends to be the dead sailor Rogers in order to take back the Grampus from the mutineers. Peters believes the first mate killed Rogers by poisoning his spirits and water, so Pym decides to “[work] upon the superstitious terrors and guilty conscience of the mate” (51). He takes Rogers’s shirt from his body, rubs white chalk on his face, and even dons a false stomach to mimic the bloated corpse.