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“Bartleby, The Scrivener” and “A Hunger Artist”

A Struggle for Social Approval

The two stories “Bartleby, The Scrivener” by Herman Melville and “A Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka were published in the year 1853 and 1922 respectively. It was an era when the world was moving towards advancement. Industrial revolution can be traced back to the late 1800’s. The 19th century was the period when America was moving towards economic boom, and social, economic and political patterns were changing dramatically. The situation was same in Germany in 1922 when the author wrote this story. These two stories are written by two different people at different times, but both the authors were going through the same situation. On a close analysis of both the stories, it can be said that the primary theme of these two stories was the issue of social acceptance of a person who refuses to change or who are finding it difficult to change. This phenomenon of society is maddening and both the authors talked about the consequences of this maddening factor.

“Bartleby, The Scrivener” is a story of a lawyer who owns a law firm on Wall Street in New York. The lawyer has three employees, Turkey who is a good scrivener in the morning but losses his ability to work in the afternoon. There is another employee named Nipper who works efficiently in the afternoon but is always uncomfortable in the morning because of his stomach troubles. And an office boy named Ginger nut. The lawyer manages his three employees efficiently, and when his business started to boom, he hired another scrivener named Bartleby (Melville). Bartleby at first seemed to be an excellent worker, then he began to politely refuse the work, and with time he even refused to leave the office building when the lawyer shifted to another place (Melville). The story and characters can be taken as a whole world, where the lawyer and Bartleby are representing the social system and people interchangeably.

Turkey and Nipper are like yin yang complementing each other, on the other hand, the new employee Bartleby is like a person or system who is finding it difficult to adjust to the society. At first, he worked exceptionally well, and the lawyer was happy with him. But then maybe because of personal dissatisfaction he quit working and all day he used to stare at the walls. He refused to move in with the lawyer, refused to eat and also refused to move out of the office building. In the end, the new tenants had to send Bartleby to jail. Analyzing the story from this angle, it can be said that Bartleby represents a social deviant and the lawyer as a society who is unable to understand and manage a person different from the rest. This also shows how society treats a person who does not confirm to the social norms of change. The story also clarifies how difficult it can be for some people to respond to a changed society which is more fast and advanced.

Analyzing the story from another angle the lawyer represents the people in a society who react differently to a situation. At the beginning of the story when Bartleby refused to work for the first time, the lawyer was unable to scold him, and then when the situation got worse, he just left the place and Bartleby. Although the lawyer was effectively managing his other three employees when he found it difficult to handle the case of Bartleby he flees, this shows how people react to challenges. They leave the problem unsolved and move on.

“A Hunger Artist” is a story of a person who is an artist. He fasts for days for a living and travels from place to place with his manager and display his talent of fasting. People from all over the adjacent areas come to see his performance eagerly, but with each passing days, they lose their interest. Although Hunger artist was very famous, but he was unhappy from the inside because of the restrictions of fasting limits forced on him. His impresario has fixed forty days for the longest period of fasting (Kafka), and the rituals performed when he breaks the fast was annoying for him. After few years his profession declined, and people became interested in other things. Eventually, the hungry artist ended up in a circus where he was put in a cage with the cages of animals (Kafka). He became a forgotten soul, and he died one day in the same cage buried under a heap of straws. The name hungry artist illustrates that the author was not talking about a person but all those who have creative minds and have a thirst for social acceptance.

The epoch portrayed in the story was a time when the pace of social change was fast, and the society was moving towards everything new. In this story, a hungry artist is a person who is fighting for his survival. He is finding it difficult to adjust to the new world and the changing attitude and preferences of the people. The author states that the hungry artist even when he was famous was not happy because of various reasons. When the hungry artist had to break the fast, there were certain rituals performed like the doctor checking him first and then his impresario forcing him to eat. This situation tells how rituals play an important part in the life of the people although the hungry artist saw this practice as foolish but he still has to perform that. Another fact that made him unhappy was a limit of forty days by his manager. He wants to extend the time, but his manager doesn’t allow it. And he gets stubborn. (Kafka). This fact shows how a society bounds the people and how the social constrains make people dissatisfied with life. When the hungry artist died a panther was put in the cage who was an energetic creature quite the opposite of the former occupant of the cage

Both the stories are symbolic tales of self-isolation and resistance to change in society. The main characters failed to confirm the social change, and both of them wastes away unnoticed and unappreciated. A similarity in both the stories is that Bartleby and the hungry Artist both ended behind bars. One in jail and the other in a cage and died. If we take both the characters, not as persons but the human ability of creativity we can say that the writers of the stories wanted to convey the social fact that in the modern world the society is killing creative and free minds and man is bound by chains of social norms. On the other hand, the difference in both endings of the stories was that in the first story the lawyer visited Bartleby and felt sorry for him, and in the hungry artist the overseer was least affected by his death and asked the worker to dispose of him. “Well, clear this out now!” (Kafka). The word this in this line shows that the hungry artist lost his identity as a person is a useless thing now. The fact that the society does not approve people who are different is maddening, and the both criticized this in their stories.

Works Cited

Kafka, Franz. Selected Short Stories of Franz Kafka. modern library, 1993.

Melville, Herman. Bartleby, the Scrivener. Bartleby Library, 1999.

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