Connotation and Denotation in the World of Pym

Hallie Edic and Katherine Lyons

The definition of denotation is the literal meaning of a word whereas the meaning of connotation is the feeling or idea that a word summons for the reader. In other words, denotation is the literal meaning while connotation is the feeling given to certain words by the world around it. The Word homework, for example, refers to work that you do outside of school which is the denotation; This word has a negative connotation for people because that is the feeling the word gives them.

This tension between denotation and connotation can be seen at the end of Pym when Garth, Chris, and Pym come across the land where the people are waving to them. The denotation of this scene is literally that they are pulling up to shore while the people on land are waving towards their boat. The connotation from this scene is what will let the reader know whether the ending of this novel was a good or a bad thing. One example of connotation at work is how the audience chooses to see the ending. Do they see the ending as happy or almost spine chilling? One reader of this novel could see the people waving towards the boat as welcoming the men to their land with open arms. Perhaps they are ready to welcome their new visitors happily and supply them with whatever they may need. On the other hand, the people waving could be a sign of warning or danger. Perhaps the waving is the people’s indication for the men to turn their boat away and not come any closer to the land. The waving could be the people’s method of telling the men on the ship that they are not welcome and they should not proceed. These two different readings of the end of the novel can change the entire finale of the work. Did Chris and Garth luck out and find people who were willing to help them after their long and crazy voyage or could they be sailing into their own death? The lack of any clear words or connotations by Johnson allows for there to be multiple different readings of the finale of Pym and does not offer a clear answer to readers as to how the men’s story concludes. This sort of idea may indicate that Johnson has a somewhat neutral take on the world. Maybe Johnson or Jaynes sees the world as being interpreted by each person around them differently. That saying that not there are endings in the world that can be left open to interpretation by the people who witnessed or experienced it. There is no one true definition of what happened at the end of the novel and everything in life is very similar to that idea as well: there is no one correct way to interpret something that happened.

In the closing scene of PYM Jaynes, Garth and Pym were the only people remaining after the snow monsters realized that sausage nose was actually Garth, they began to attack which led to an earthquake causing everybody to be killed besides the remaining three. This could have been predicted that these characters would survive due to the fact that they played a very big role in the story and were of most importance.  At the end people are waving from a distance on the land, but the readers are never told what type of emotion these waves were emanating; this gives the readers a chance to interpret this however they feel appropriate. Due to the fact that these people had been on this continent with no connection to the outside world this can lead the readers to believe that the people were relieved to see that the group who went on an expedition to Antarctica were still alive. There were not many details in the book that could lead the readers to believe that the people would be waving them away telling them to go back from where they just got freedom, but if the reader were to dig deeper and start thinking there could be alternative connotations for these waves. For instance if there was a bigger threat to them back at home like the government the people waving could be protecting them from legal trouble. Also the people could have been booing and wishing them back to the icy land because they had discovered supernatural creatures, and most people are scared of things that are non-human which could explain them wanting the group to stay as far away as possible from civilization. Perhaps the author used the word wave because it was nothing more than that but because there is no explanation the ending can be interpreted however the reader wants it to be. 

When looking at how this scene fits into the book as a whole, it can change the reading of the novel as well. Was everything the group did for nothing? Did they find Tsalal like they set out to and are they being welcomed by the people there or did they end up taking an extended journey to their death? At the end of the day, everything lies in how the reader decides to interpret it. Again, does the reader see their arrival in Tsalal as welcoming or as a warning of imminent danger if the men choose to come any closer to the land? Considering these people have never met Garth and Chris, and considering how poorly the snow creatures treated the humans when they intruded on their land, it is hard to believe that the people of Tsalal would be welcoming the men onto their land. It is more likely that the people are telling the men not to come towards their land and to keep sailing unless they are luring the men in in an attempt to enslave them just as the Tekelians did when the group stumbled upon their cave. 

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