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The Death of Humanity in The Overcoat and Bartleby the Scrivener - Essay Example

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Herman Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener and Nikolai Gogol's The Overcoat are, at first glance, very similar in terms of plot, characterization and ideology. Both protagonists are scriveners who are portrayed as the exploited laborers in a capitalistic society…
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The Death of Humanity in The Overcoat and Bartleby the Scrivener
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The Death of Humanity in The Overcoat and Bartleby the Scrivener

The reader's reaction and emotive responses to the deaths of these gentlemen are different for each story because of the narrators.
Both stories, as discussed, are similar and these similarities will be dealt with swiftly. Akakievitch is described, in every way, as a second-class citizen, an exploited laborer at the mercy of an unjust society. "He was what is called a perpetual titular councilor, over which, as is well known, some writers make merry, and crack their jokes, obeying the praiseworthy custom of attacking those who cannot bite back" (Gogol, 1). His appearance matched his unfortunate status in life "-short of stature, somewhat pock-marked, red-haired, and short-sighted, with a bald forehead, wrinkled cheeks, and a complexion of the kind known as sanguine." (Gogol, 1)"His superiors treated him in coolly despotic fashion" (Gogol 2). Bartleby gives us the same impressions. The narrator saw him as "pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, and incurably forlorn!" (Melville, 5) and was also
employed as a scrivener for very little money. Both men die because they cannot function in a world in which they have no control, a world in which they feel isolated and mistreated. Akakievitch dies from a fever with which he is afflicted because his new overcoat is stolen, a coat for which he has sacrificed and obsessed over for many months. His obsession could very well be seen as the cause of his demise, but it was the one thing he could control. He picked the tailor, the fabric, and the style and even changed his demeanor when he wore the coat. Even though the St. Petersburg winters forced him to buy a new coat, he controlled the details. It was his biggest achievement in a life that was "littered" with obstacles and adversities. When his coat was taken from him, he was devastated, much like the lover who must endure unrequited love.
Bartleby died because he, too, was deprived of his only avenue of control. "I prefer not to" was a regular response to a boss who symbolizes the tyranny and exploitive behavior of the upper class proletariat of Melville and Gogol's time. From a Marxist's point of view, Bartleby's defiance can be interpreted as a resistance against capitalist oppression. Melville was a strong advocate of social justices and economic reform, a subject directly related to the social problems arising from industrialization in 19th century America. Although Gogol was a Russian, he too was a strong advocate for social justice. He wrote, however, under political censorship and that could explain why he needed to end his story with the fantastical element of a ghost. It would turn a rather didactic political statement into an Aesop's fable. The Americans had no such censorship.

Bartleby and Akakievitch both suffered from malnutrition, a significant factor in their deaths, since neither ate properly. Their reasons for such extreme actions were, however, quite different. Akakievitch sacrificed his evening meal for his new coat. "He even got used to being hungry in the evening, but he made up for it by treating himself, so to say, in spirit, by bearing ever in mind the idea of his future cloak" (Gogol 7). It was his decision to make. "He became more lively, and even his character grew firmer, like that of a man who has made up his mind, and set himself a goal" (Gogol ... Read More
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