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Bartleby the Scrivener: Obsession or Attraction

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When people get obsessed or curious about someone, they can do things that they would not be able to do it without being afraid of being judge by others or by themselves. Those individuals can make them change radically and leave a profound effect on them. In the short stories “Bartleby The Scrivener” by Herman Melville and “The Bridegroom” by Ha Jin, we are presented to two narrators who came across to a peculiar person, an outlier who would become close to each narrator. Each peculiar individual would be presented in the beginning of each story as the ideal person, but soon the perfect view of them decay. Eventually the narrators are force to deal with the problem of helping a person that is only giving them problems, problems that gradually increase as the stories go, but the curiosity that each narrator has towards the peculiar individual stops them from leaving them. Even though the narrators are willing to help in any way they can, they eventually realized that there is nothing that they can do in order to change the way those outliers are, leaving them at the end. In the two stories, the authors tell us how the narrators did not want to stay away from those peculiar individuals because they portrayed how the narrators wanted to be but could not.

In the story of “Bartleby” by Herman Melville, a lawyer introduces us to Bartleby. Due to the increase of the lawyer business, he is forced to hire one more person. This is when Bartleby first appears in the story. A scrivener who was described as a respectful, well dressed, and incurable forlorn. The scrivener performs an incredible amount of work leaving the lawyer impressed, but this image of a perfect employee starts to change when Bartleby refuses to revise his work in one of the most peaceful way by saying “I would prefer not to” leaving the lawyer shocked about the scriveners refusal (Melville 10-11). In this scene, we see how someone can appear to be the perfect employee. Bartleby was well presented and did a great work, but the way he refused to do a part of his job and how the narrator allowed Bartleby to get away with his refusal can only say that in a way the narrator was curious about him. The lawyer himself was unable to answer in the way Bartleby did nor he could act like Bartleby because of his work and social status.

From the beginning the author starts by presenting the lawyer. He is not ambitious. at all neither he likes to work hard. As the lawyer says in the beginning of the story, “I am a man who, from his youth upwards, has been filled with a profound conviction that the easiest way of life is the best” (5). This can explain why the lawyer did not get rid of Bartleby at the moment he started to refuse to do a part of his job. The way Bartleby behaved attracted the lawyer’s attention because he wished that he could be like Bartleby; do what he wanted and refused if he was asked to do a task. He grew up with the believe of the best life was to have an easy one, and surely Bartleby was having that kind of life. Furthermore, Bartleby had nothing to lose when he decided not to do any work at all. If the lawyer decided to behave like Bartleby, everything he had achieve could be lost. The lawyer surely was jealous of Bartleby and this made him keep the scrivener because at least he could witness what he wanted to do but could not.

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Another person who is presented as the perfect example is Baowen. Ha Jin, introduces us to Baowen, in his story “the Bridegroom”. In this story the narrator is Old Chen. His nominal daughter Beina, was getting old and Old Cheng was concern that Beina would become an old maid, but everything changes when Baowen suddenly proposed to her leaving everyone in the factory shocked especially Old Cheng. Baowen is described as handsome, well educated, with fine manners, and that in a way “he resembles a woman”. This perfect image of Baowen changes when Beina came to Old Cheng’s office and tells him that Baowen did not come home (Jin 1-2). The way Old Cheng describes how Baowen is, gives the reader a feeling that he feels attracted to Baowen, especially in the part where he says that he resembles a woman. Old Cheng describes Beina with only negative aspects while Baowen is being describe as the perfect man. As he was an Old man and never had a child of his own, Old Cheng could be questioning himself about his sexuality.

Even though Old Cheng felt curious or attracted towards Baowen, he would not be able to behave like him because of the society he lived in would not accept it. in the story after Baowen is caught in a gay men club and arrested, many rumors started to be heard in the factory. Saying that homosexuality was a westernized social disease (3). Therefore, Old Cheng would never be like Baowen. He had a good job as head of the security section and a wife. The pressure that the society he lived in was putting already on him was something that will stop him from accepting that he might be gay too. That is way he was curious about his nominal son-in-law. Baowen was married but did not have a child after eight months of being with Beina. Old Cheng was married for many years already and also did not have a child; this can tell the reader that Old Cheng could relate himself with Baowen. Old Cheng must have thought about he himself being homosexual.

Some people may say that both narrators were helping because that is the right thing to do. Even though the lawyer was giving many options for Bartleby to leave the chambers, Bartleby did not accept. The lawyer went even as far as asking Bartleby to come home with him and that he could stay with him as long as he needed to (Melville 32). This part is important for the reader, because for more that someone is willing to help another person, asking a stranger to come home and live there is an extreme option. The lawyer barely knew Bartleby and despite that fact, he was willing to take him to his dwelling. The lawyer had and attraction towards Bartleby, and even he says that he was exited to ask him to go to his house.

Work cited

  2. Jin, Ha. The Bridegroom: Stories. Vintage Books, 2001.

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