Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Sure, we could have included the whirlpool in our symbol analysis of "The Elements," but we thought it deserved to hog the spotlight for a bit.
That's because at the end of the story the whirlpool brings together all of the natural forces that have beset the narrator from the beginning in one giant, black, death swirlie. Check it out:
Oh, horror upon horror! the ice opens suddenly to the right, and to the left, and we are whirling dizzily, in immense concentric circles, round and round the borders of a gigantic amphitheater, the summit of whose walls is lost in the darkness and the distance. […] we are plunging madly within the grasp of the whirlpool—and amid a roaring, and bellowing, and shrieking of ocean and of tempest, the ship is quivering, oh God! and—going down. (27)
Our poor narrator. He really can't catch a break, can he? First he's lost at see with some random Swede. Then he's picked up by a creepy ship crewed by zombie sailors. But hey, at least they seemed to know what they we're doing. We mean, they were managing to sail and steer in a hurricane for Pete's sake.
But now, that sturdy ship, creepy though she may be, is circling the great drain of the world and headed for who knows where. That's right folks, the whirlpool is the ultimate mystery here—the great beyond, the depths of the darkness, the terrifying unknown. It's the culmination of everything for our dear narrator, and a keen reminder that throughout this story he has had absolutely no control. Over anything. At all.