American Literature to 1865

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Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville are stories which strongly comment on humanity. The stories underline the need for compassion which seems to be lacking among mankind. In order to illustrate this both th stories make use of symbols.


In Young Goodman Brown and Bartleby, the Scrivener the protagonists live in a state of bliss or ignorance before coming to terms with reality. In Bartleby, the Scrivener the protagonist has no idea how the modern business life is affecting him. The narrator's self characterization is symbolic of how the modern man adapts himself to the business world. The financial security is all that matters to him. It makes him emotionally vapid. The office is another symbol to state this emptiness. The office is very depressing:
"Wall-street. At one end they looked upon the white wall of the interior of a spacious sky-light shaft, penetrating the building from top to bottom my windows commanded an unobstructed view of a lofty brick wall, black by age and everlasting shade;" (Herman Melville)
This modern life makes it unable for a man to connect with other human beings. However the narrator does not realize this until bartleby comes to his office. Bartleby acts as the narrator's double in the story. To make this evident b is described in ghostly terms. This ghost is actually the narrator's phantom double. He looks ghostlike and dead, shows no human passion and works constantly. This underlines the narrator's emotional vapiditiy. But unlike the narrator who adapts himself to the business world. Bartleby is exhausted. His famous statement "I would prefer not to" is not an act of defiance. Rather it symbolizes his exhaustion.
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