Bartleby and Akaky: A Struggle against Social Tide
Herman Melville's Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street is a story reminiscent of the emergence of nineteenth century white-collar working class in most cities in the United States and specifically New York. Melville paints a picture of "Bartleby" a tragi-comic fable about a passive man, invisible to the society and who responds to his condition in the most unusual way leading to his death. It is important to note that this story was written at the height of labor activism when the Wall Street was the center of Political debates on workers' rights amid growing labor movements. Similarly, Nikolai Gogol's The Overcoat is reminiscent of nineteenth-century Russia characterized by challenges of transition from feudal society to a modern society with the advent of industrialization. The author paints a picture of an individual engulfed by the absurdities of life as a result of the character of those around him. Both stories are centered on individuals who in one way or another are victims of their circumstances. Despite the fact that both Bartleby and Akaky are portrayed as diligent workers, their enigmatic demeanors are a reflection of their respective societies underlying attributes. This is evident in the stories characterization, plot development, and narrative technique.
In both Gogol's story The Overcoat, and Melville's Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street, the narrators become significant characters in presenting the portrait of Bartleby and Akaky respectively. In The Overcoat, the narrator conveying Akaky Akakyevich Bashmachkin's story is as important as the lead character Akaky. The author paints the picture of a quiet self-effacing, meek man from a third person's view. However, this narrative pattern is inconsistent as in the opening paragraphs; the narrator assumes a first-person narrative. Here the narrator comes alive talking directly to the reader, this is seen particularly in the description of the birth and naming of Akaky, and reads; "We have mentioned it in order that the reader might see for himself that it was a case of necessity, and that it was utterly impossible to give him any other name. When and how he entered the department, and who appointed him, no one could remember" (Gogol 591). The author here excludes himself in a bid to instill in the reader a sense of independent analysis of the unfolding event far from the narrator's voice and opinion. In the same line, in Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street, the narrator is similarly an important character just as the main character, Bartleby. In the initial paragraphs, the narrator makes an introduction characterizing himself as a safe man, one who takes few risks and tries hard to conform. The narrator does this in a bid to set the right tone preparing the reader for what's coming; he not only introduces himself but also the other characters, the setting and eventually unveils Bartleby, the main character. He gives the reader a general picture of himself as an aged man, a professional, financially stable, one who is at home with the economy of New York City, an acquaintance of John Jacob Astor. This is evident in his choice of words that reflect his language, such as "imprimis" in line 3 and constructions like "not insensible" in line 4 and "hath" in line 3 tell us about his linguistic affiliation (Melville 977). His could be a case of communication pattern of the time, but most likely common in the law profession which adopts largely Latin words.
The relationship between the narrator and Bartleby in Melville's story signifies class conflict. The narrator, who is the lawyer, is seen as a static character, he does not take charge of the situation to explore the underlying issues. He is restricted to his own understanding "assumptions," which is a latent ideology he seems to shares with the larger society. These so called "assumptions" are the protector of class interests in the story. It is interesting to note that this ideology is deeply woven in his person, he cannot open his mind to options, neither does he question his mind habits as well as conduct, he however, is fixated with maintaining his socio-economic status, his privileged position. The narrator is blinded by his upper-class perspective and cannot resolve the issues causing his worker's unusual behavior. He totally misses to see that it is the exploitative nature of his relationship with his employees that is the problem." It was truly a beautiful…