Bartleby The Scrivener Most everyone remembers a favorite story that he or she has read.
A book that just captivated the reader from beginning to end. But how do authors successfully grab the attention of their readers? Authors utilize specific techniques to convey the characters, setting, and plot effectively. The two short stories Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville and The Tenant by Bharati Mukherjee do just that. The authors of both stories effectively develop unique characters through description or narration, action, and dialogue, which fit in with both the setting and the plot. The main character in Bartleby, the Scrivener is indeed an interesting one.
Although the name of the story may give the impression that the main character is Bartleby, it is in fact the narrator whom we learn the most about. The narrator is described as a very orderly person. His actions and speech demonstrate his fastidious ways. The narrator even shows the reader right from the beginning that he prefers to go about in an orderly fashion, by the fact that he absolutely must give background about his life and work, before he can begin to tell us about his employee. “Ere introducing the scrivenerif is fit I make some mention of my self, my employes, my business, my chambers, and general surroundings” (Meyer, 113). The narrators setting, including his office, also shows that he likes to keep everything organized. His office is separated into sections by folding glass doors to distinguish his side of the room from his scriveners. The narrator also separates Bartleby into confinement.
“Still further to a satisfactory arrangement, I procured a high green folding screen, which might entirely isolate Bartleby from my sight, though not remove him from my voice” (118). The reader can see that the narrator likes to have a set way of doing tasks through his actions and interactions with the other characters. The narrator is obviously not one whose demands are often ignored.
He does not quite seem to know how to react when Bartleby “prefers” not to comply with the narrators wishes. “I staggered to my desk, and sat there in a deep study Was there any other thing in which I could procure myself to be ignominiously repulsed by this lean, penniless wight? my hired clerk?” (122). Another one of the narrators qualities is being pompous. He seems to have an overblown image of himself and puts himself above others. “but, in the cool tranquility of a snug retreat, I do a snug business among rich mens bonds, and mortgages, and title-deeds. All who know me, consider me an eminently safe man” (113).
We can also tell that the narrator is dominating over others by the way he speaks to them and gives them orders in a quick, no-nonsense fashion. “Bartleby! quick, I am waiting” (119). The narrator at times also seems confused. His own employee is defying, and in a way, testing him. Yet, he does nothing about the situation. The narrator appears to be perplexed as to how to deal with Bartleby.
“Shall I acknowledge it? The conclusion of this whole business was Bartleby was never, on any account, to be dispatched on the most trivial errand of any sort” (122). He begins to doubt himself and his position of authority. The narrator turns to his other employees to back him up.
“I threw open the folding-doors nearby, and turning upon Turkey and Nippers, exclaimed: Bartleby a second time says, he wont examine the papers. What do you think of it, Turkey?” (121). Despite the narrators apparent need for organization, he is extremely inconsistent in his actions. The narrator obviously does not believe that Bartleby should stay employed without doing any work, but at times he is willing to ignore this fact, and even make excuses for his hesitation in confronting Bartleby. “I half intended something of the unalterable purpose of some terrible retribution. But upon the whole, as it was drawing towards my dinner-hour, I thought it best to put on my hat and walk home for the day, suffering much from perplexity and distress of mind” (122). He is also inconsistent in the fact that as much as he dislikes Bartleby and his behavior, the narrator is at the same time pleased with the little work that Bartleby does do. “I felt my most precious papers perfectly safe in his hands.
Sometimes, to be sure, I could not, for the very soul of me, avoid falling into sudden spasmodic passions with him” (122). But why does the narrator not simply fire Bartleby? Not only does Bartleby take advantage of the narrators office for a home, he also beings to control the narrators actions. “Now, the utterly unsurmised appearance of Bartleby, tenanting my law chambers of a Sunday morning, with his cadaverously gentlemanly nonchalance, yet withal firm and self-possessed, had such a strange effect upon me, that incontinently I slunk away from my own door, and did as….. desired” (123).
It can be said that the narrator did not dismiss Bartleby because he wanted to make himself feel superior, by his act of “kindness.” “If I turn him away, the chances are he will fall in with some less indulgent employer, and then he will be rudely treated, and perhaps driven forth miserably to starve. Yes. Here I can cheaply purchase a delicious self-approval” (121). The narrators character is a complex one which causes the reader to become frustrated at his actions. By creating a frustrating character, the author stimulates the emotions of the reader and causes him to involve himself in the story that much more.
Like the narrator in Bartleby, the narrator in The Tenant happens to be the main character. In dissimilar ways than the narrator of Bartleby, Maya is also a lost person. Mayas character provides the reader with insight into a world of two clashing cultures. Maya has had a very conflicting life, seeing that she is from India, but has been in America for ten years. Maya seems to be going through almost an identity crisis; confused in that she does not know whether to call herself Indian or American.
Maya still holds some beliefs about stereotypical Indian women. She shows this when she thinks that she has to cook her friend some exotic Indian dish, because that is what is expected of Indian women. “She realizes Indian women are supposed to be inventive with food, whip up exotic delights to tickle an Americans palate” (103). Although Maya has an Indian background, she has Americanized herself – or so she believes. “She is an American citizen. But” (104).
“She has broken with the past. But” (105). Here, by writing both “Buts”, the author indicates that there is something missing, that there is more to the picture than can be seen at the surface. The setting in the story also reflects Mayas confusion, due to the contrasting cultures she has taken on.
At first, when she is at her own house with her friend Fran, Mayas character is described in a way that does not give a sense that she is “home.” It seems as though Maya has never had a real home. Her whole life she has been moving from one place to another. “Maya Sanyal has been in Cedar Falls, Iowa, less than two weeks from New Jersey.
Before that she was in North Carolina. Before that, Calcutta, India” (102). The title of the story mirrors this nature of Mayas character, in that she has always been a tenant wherever she goes. She has never had a permanent residence and appears as though she does not know where she belongs, so she continues to travel from place to place nomadically. When the setting takes place at Dr.
Chatterjis house, Maya also does not feel comfortable in such an extreme Indian environment. “She doesnt want to let go of Mrs. Chatterji. She doesnt want husband and wife to get into whispered conferences about their guests misadventures in America, as they make tea in the kitchen” (106).
Also, Mr. Chatterjis character, his behavior and culture, represents the Indian that Maya does not wish to be. “Maya is meant to visualize a smart, clean-cut young man from southern Calcutta, but all she can see is a crazy, thwarted, lost graduate student. Intelligent, proper family guarantee nothing.
Even Brahmins can do self-destructive things, feel unsavory urges” (107). By having so much American influence in her life, Maya has to some extent lost, or chosen to ignore, some of her Indian culture. She definitely does not behave as one would expect traditional Indian women to act. “Shes done things a woman from Ballygunge Park Road doesnt do, even in fantasies. Shes not yet shared stories with Fran, apart from the divorce. Shes told her nothing of men she picks up, the reputation shed gained, before Cedar Falls, for indiscretions” (104).
Maya has had many boy friends and lovers, but she always moves on. It should be pointed out that she once married an American man and divorced him. But, at the end of the story, Maya ends up with an Indian man, even though she has never been with one. “Maya has slept with married men, with nameless men, with men little more than boys, but never with an Indian man. Never” (106).
This shows that although Maya is confused about which culture is more predominating in her life, she has deeper roots in her Indian culture. “Now it suggests that Maya and Dr. Chatterji have three thousand years plus civilization, sophistication, and moral virtue, over people born on this continent” (105). Mayas thoughts and actions are coming from her culture, but her culture is a mix of Indian and American. In conclusion, the authors through distinct techniques develop the main characters of Bartleby, the Scrivener and The Tenant both.
The authors of the two stories use setting and plot, narration, and conduct to portray the characters so that the reader better understands them.