The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket Summary and Analysis of Chapters V-IX


Augustus wonders how he can communicate with Pym, and decides that he will try via the main hold. To his surprise he sees that his irons slip off easily, and that he is able to untie his feet once his hands are free. After this experiment he hears noises and slips his restraints back on as Dirk Peters and Tiger come into the room. Tiger has been found and thankfully is not harmed by the mutineers. After Dirk leaves Augustus commences cutting through one of the petition boards to the berth. Tiger becomes excited at the hole that is forming and Augustus thinks he should send a note. He finds paper in his pocket and uses his own blood for ink. Tiger is sent below to find Pym.

Dirk Peters returns and talks to Augustus. Augustus wonders at his odd, even grotesque behavior; this is due to his drunkenness but Augustus is still unnerved. He hears more about the mutiny – it was not for the sake of booty but due to a private grievance of the mate's toward the captain. The mutineers are now divided between those of the mate and those of the cook. The mate wants to be piratical but the cook and his group, which includes Dirk Peters, want to go whaling or on some other voyage.

In the evening Augustus is finally able to make his way down into the hold where Pym lies. He doubts, given the circumstances, that his friend is still alive, and becomes distressed when he does not answer. Thankfully, as related, Pym drops his bottle and Augustus finds him.

Reunited, the two friends decide they have to make their way to the hole in the bulkhead where Pym will remain for the time being. Pym cannot bear leaving Tiger, especially since the dog saved his life once. Tiger is thus dragged along and Pym takes up his place near the opening of the hole where Augustus will supply him with provisions.

Pym now enters into a lengthy exposition on the best way for a ship to organize its hold; it is very important that all of the heavy things be stowed carefully so storms will not dislodge them and cause the ship to tilt or even sink. A ship must be able to gain its equilibrium in a storm, and improperly organized stowage can prevent that.

As Pym rests in his hiding place, he hears and sees the mate and Dirk Peters come into the berth where Augustus is lying. They talk about hoping to see a vessel from Cape Verd. The cook soon leaves and Dirk Peters talks to Augustus alone. It becomes clear that the man's earlier intoxication was a feint. After he leaves Augustus and Pym discuss telling Peters about Pym's presence.

Later Pym is pleased to see that Tiger's behavior owed to the noxious fumes of the hold and that he is no longer crazed.

A few days later Augustus is informed that he is able to go about the brig anywhere forward of the foremast as he pleased. He continues to bring Pym food and water.

Pym decides to continue in journal fashion and begins dating his entries. Dirk still treats Augustus with kindness. Augustus spends his time trying to discern the intentions of the mutineers. It seems that the evil mate's view of piracy is holding sway. There are thirteen men besides Augustus and Pym onboard. On July 6th a gale rises up and the din prevents the mutineers from hailing the ship they are waiting for. A few more men go over to the mate's side. On July 8th Dirk Peters speaks with Augustus privately and asks if the young man will help him if he decides to take back the ship; Augustus agrees promptly.

The next day Hartman Rogers, of the cook's gang, dies after suffering spasms. Dirk Peters speculates that he was poisoned and is nervous for his own life. Sadly, the cook goes over to the mate's side; this prompts Peters to go to Augustus and tell him the time has now come to take action. Augustus tells him of Pym's presence and Peters is overjoyed. The two men make their acquaintance.

A terribly violent squall roars up that evening and the men decide there is no better time to enact their plan. It seems difficult since there are only three of them and nine men in the cabin, and Peters also worries that the mate is onto him. He proposes that he go above to the deck and feign to speak to the watch, a man named Allen, and then throw him into the sea. Pym thinks Allen will not fall for this; the crew seems very much aware and paranoid.

Pym comes up with a better plan. He remembers that the corpse of the dead man, Rogers, is still onboard. He had died at eleven in the afternoon but "the corpse presented in a few minutes after death one of the most horrid and loathsome spectacles I ever remember to have seen." The stomach is swollen drastically, the face shrunken and chalky white with a few red splotches. The mate sees the body and is horrified – perhaps due to remorse – and says that it must be prepared for sea burial. Pym thinks that if he dresses up like the corpse and frightens the crew, they will have the advantage.

This being decided upon as the plan, Peters goes to the deck and is able to throw Allen overboard. Pym dresses up as the corpse and presents "a most shocking appearance" and possesses "a sense of vague awe at my appearance".

The three men creep towards the cabin. The mutineers are engaged in conversation and are not as drunk as usual. They hear the men talking about Peters and Augustus needing to be thrown overboard. Peters enters their company and is able to sit down companionably and speak with them. He subtly turns the conversation to the corpse, to which the mate evinces much agitation. Suddenly Pym throws open the door and reveals himself to the party. The men have no doubt at all that they are truly seeing Rogers's revivified corpse or at least his spirit. The remoteness of their situation, the tempest, the disgusting nature of the actual corpse, and their guilt all make them think it is truly him.

Peters and Augustus act immediately. The mate dies of fright, but the cook and John Hunt are shot. Pym hits Richard Parker with a pump-handle. Augustus is stabbed in the arm and is too feeble to continue fighting Jones, but to everyone's surprise, Tiger bursts in and saves Augustus. Peters kills Greely and Hicks. The only man alive is Richard Parker, but he begs for mercy and the men allow him to live. His hands are tied up.

Victorious against the mutineers, the men still have to survive the monstrous storm. They work at the pumps to try and drain the seven feet of water from stowage. The storm treats them harshly, with waves flowing over the deck, parts of the ship tearing off, and the wind howling in their ears. Finally one massive wave sweeps over the ship, "sweeping the companion-way clear off, bursting in the hatchways, and filling every inch of the vessel with water."

Thankfully all four of the men have lashed themselves firmly to the fragments of the windlass so they will not be swept overboard. This is where they remain throughout the terrific storm. The brig is almost completely destroyed and they hold on for hours upon hours. Peters moans that he may perish because the lashes across his middle are causing him too much misery and excruciating pain. At one point Pym calls out to the men and only Augustus answers feebly.

Pym dozes and dreams of moving objects. The storm finally subsides and Pym looks to his companions. Peters and Parker still live but Augustus appears dead. Pym cuts Parker free and has to recover his own strength, as his legs will not work for some time. When Peters is released from the lash he feels relief right away. Thankfully Augustus is not dead; he has merely fainted from loss of blood.

A gentle warm wind blows and the men turn their thoughts to the lack of food and water. It has been three days without either and they are growing desperate. Peters decides that he will fasten a rope to his body and be lowered into the water-filled cabin to try and find provisions. Multiple attempts yield nothing; there are too many obstacles and Peters cannot breathe too long under water.

Augustus and Pym in particular despair and burst into tears, but this weakness abates and they throw themselves on their knees and implore God's aid; they rise with "renewed hope and vigour" and try to figure out what they can do to survive.


The action continues at near-breakneck speed in these chapters, which see Pym finally released from his hold when he joins Augustus and Dirk Peters in taking back the ship and the four men try to survive a vicious storm. Pym enters into a lengthy discussion of stowage at one point; this may have been Poe's way of convincing his readers that he was an expert at sea matters, but it can also signify much more. Pym's point is that a well-ordered stowage is crucial to maintaining equilibrium, and that there were many things that worked together to make this difficult. What saves the Grampus is that it contains a multitude of empty oil casks, which are buoyant. This mirrored exploration literature as a genre, which was packed with disparate, loosely related episodes and tales. The critic Lisa Gitelman writes "similarly Pym's mind, the novel, the magazine, despite any reader's accusations of disunity and sloppy stowage, manage to float in the same way that a voyage account...manages to float fairly well, buoyed by the expectations of readers accustomed to the conventions of sloppy stowage."

Poe's fascination with the macabre, for which he is famous, is manifest in the scene with Pym dressing up as the corpse of the poisoned mutineer. This is not the first grotesque event in the text nor is it the last, but it is impactful nonetheless. Pym explains that the reason the men believe that he is truly the corpse is the strange world at sea in which they operate – they are isolated, at the mercy of Nature, and tormented psychologically by guilt, particularly in the mate's case. The sea has always had an aspect of mystery, awe, and terror to it, which can exacerbate the feelings possessed by those who sail upon it. Superstition comes naturally to sailors, and they are willing to put meaning into seemingly meaningless events or "signs".

This theme of deceit is ubiquitous in the novel. Characters are constantly trying to fool each other, starting from Pym's lying to his family so he can go to sea and ending with the natives' trying to gain the trust of the white sailors in order to kill them. Pym's dressing up as the corpse of Hartman Rogers is merely one example of many. Pym himself is deceived, usually by sights, sounds, and situations. The novel suggests that deceit is a universal attribute – everyone in it is deceived or deceives someone else at one point in the story. The theme is also important on a meta level when examining Poe's possible desire to deceive his readers; Pym's intentionally confusing preface and editor Poe's concluding note call into question the truthfulness of the narrator, famously making some contemporary readers think it was a true story.

At the end of Chapter IX when the men realize they have survived the storm but are now faced with starvation and dehydration, they cry out to God to save them: "Throwing ourselves on our knees to God, we implored his aid in many dangers which beset us..." (82). The inclusion of God in this text is rather odd and ambiguous. Poe was certainly not a very religious man and the presence of God is managed with a degree of ambivalence. While Pym often asks God for help or thanks God when he is delivered from a crisis, there is no deep engagement, no fervent spirituality. Pym has a rather perfunctory approach, playing it safe by asking God for help when he is in trouble and offering cursory thanks when he is delivered.

Pym suggests, in fact, that God does not really have a role to play in the novel. God seems removed, outside, of the events of the story. In the next couple of chapters, the deliverance the stranded men think they have received from God turns out to be a ghastly ship full of corpses. The critic John Hussey writes, "It becomes clear to us, if not yet to Pym, that God is not going to be of any assistance." Towards the end of the novel Pym's idea of God has changed – "a God who exists only outside of space and time, a God revealed to man only in death or in the poet's vision."