Study Guide

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym

by Edgar Allan Poe

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Arthur Gordon Pym was born the son of a respectable trader in Nantucket. While still young, he attends an academy and there meets Augustus Barnard, the son of a sea captain, and the two become close friends. One night after a party, Augustus wakes Pym from his sleep, and together they set off for the harbor. There, Augustus takes charge of a small boat, and they head out to sea.

Before long, Pym, seeing that his companion is unconscious, realizes the sad truth of the escapade. Augustus is drunk and, now in the cold weather, is lapsing into insensibility. As a result, their boat is run down by a whaler, and the two narrowly escape with their lives. They are taken aboard the ship that had run them down and returned to port at Nantucket.

The two friends become even more intimate after this escapade. Captain Barnard had been preparing to fit out the Grampus, an old sailing hulk, for a voyage on which Augustus was to accompany him. Against his father’s wishes, Pym plans to sail with his friend. Since Captain Barnard would not willingly allow Pym to sail without his father’s permission, the two boys decide to smuggle Pym aboard and hide him in the hold until the ship should be so far at sea that the Captain would not turn back.

At first, everything goes according to schedule. Pym is hidden below in a large box with a store of water and food to last him approximately four days. At the end of the fourth day, Pym finds that his way to the main deck is barred. His friend Augustus does not rescue him. He remains in that terrible state for several days, coming each day closer to starvation or death from thirst.

At last, Pym’s dog, who had followed him aboard the ship, finds Pym. Tied to the dog’s body is a paper containing a strange message concerning blood and a warning to Pym to keep silent if he values his life. Pym is sick from hunger and fever when Augustus at last appears. The story he tells is a terrible one. Shortly after the ship had put to sea, the crew mutinied, and Captain Barnard had been set adrift in a small boat. Some of the crew had been killed, and Augustus himself was a prisoner of the mutineers. Pym and Augustus locate a place of comparative safety where it is agreed that Pym should hide.

Pym now gives his attention to the cargo, which seems not to have been stowed in accordance with the rules for safety. Dirk Peters, a drunken mutineer, helps both Pym and Augustus and provides them with food.

When the ship runs into a storm, some of the mutineers are washed overboard. Augustus is once more given free run of the ship. Augustus, Pym, and Peters plan to overcome the other mutineers and take possession of the ship. To frighten the mutineers during a drunken brawl, Pym disguises himself to resemble a sailor recently killed. The three kill all the mutineers except a sailor named Parker. Meanwhile, a gale comes up, and in a few hours, the vessel is reduced to a hulk by the heavy seas. Because the ship’s cargo is...

(The entire section is 1228 words.)