All Elements of a Short Story Stitch Together a Theme
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Short stories are fiction stories. Fiction is writing of imagined events and characters. Great short stories combine 5 key elements, which combine to create the story and to support a theme. These elements are plot, imagery, setting, point of view, and characters. For example I will use the short story by Herman Melville, “Bartleby the Scrivener.” In this short story the theme is about selfishness and that one cannot change another, because one can only change him or her self regardless of any outside efforts. The plot in this story slowly builds up and then comes crashing down. It begins with one of the characters Bartleby, arriving at a lawyer’s office, seeking employment. Bartleby is a very oddly quiet person; regardless, he starts work right away and is a great scrivener. The lawyer, who owns the office, finds Bartley’s character to be an interest to him. He says, “I resolved to assign Bartleby a corner by the folding-doors, but on my side of them so as to have this quiet man within easy call, in case any trifling thing was to be done”(10). I wonder, why does the lawyer decide to selfishly seclude him from his co-workers? The story eventually hits a conflict.
He asks his copyist to do something, Bartleby responds, “I would prefer not to”(12). At one point he asks closely, “you will not?”(17) and Bartleby responds, “I prefer not”(17). The lawyer becomes curious about Bartleby’s passive resistance. The lawyer eventually comes to a point where he knows he should fire Bartleby but allows him to continue being an employee. He expresses well why in this quote: “Poor fellow! thought I, he means no mischief; it is plain he intends no insolence I can get along with him. If I turn him away he will fall in with some less indulgent employer, and then he will be rudely treated here I can cheaply purchase a delicious self-approval. To befriend Bartleby will cost me little or nothing while I lay up in my soul what will eventually prove a sweet morsel for my conscience”(15-16). Understand here that he speaks of his conscience being rewarded. Things then become complicated when Bartleby decides to stop working all together. He even was caught living at the office. Bartleby gets fired, kind of, but continues to “prefer not to” leave.
The lawyer feels bad and allows Bartleby to live there even though he is fired. Bartleby eventually starts affecting business and the lawyer moves his office and abandons Bartleby. The lawyer can no longer help Bartleby because he views him as a burden now. This leaves Bartleby to be affected by the consequences. His efforts continue as he does attempt one last time to help Bartleby by offering to live in his own home. This can be taken as one last attempt of an act of kindness, an attempt to reward his conscience or both. Bartleby prefers not to leave and is eventually removed from the office and sent to jail. This resolution only brushes Bartleby’s problem to the side and never gets resolved. Bartleby dies in jail due to his protest to eat and change at all. Melville presents imagery of walls and barriers that surround or separate the characters. He writes, “At one end they (the office) looked upon the white wall of the interior of a spacious sky-light shaft, penetrating the building from top to bottom.
This view might have been considered rather tame than otherwise, deficient in what landscape painters call ‘life’. But if so, the view from the other end of my chambers offered, at least, a contrast, if nothing more. In that direction my windows commanded an unobstructed view of a lofty brick wall, black by age and everlasting shade; which wall required no spy-glass to bring out its lurking beauties, but for the benefit of all near-sighted spectators, was pushed up to within ten feet of my window panes. Owing to the great height of the surrounding buildings, and my chambers being on the second floor, the interval between this wall and mine not a little resembled a huge square cistern”(4-5). What an awful image for one to view the office. Now I feel even worst for the scriveners. The description is one of a correction center or jail if you prefer not an office. No wonder the scriveners didn’t stand a chance against the lawyer, who could ever put up with a man like him. Let alone an environment like the one described.
The setting and point of view working together helped me understand the story. This story takes place in a law office located in New York City, better explained to be on Wall Street. You as a reader have to take the location into consideration. Wall street is a very busy place. It’s the center of business and finance, filled with different kinds of lawyer’s and scriveners. I find this helpful to view how the life of a lawyer and scrivener might have been on Wall Street. In this story the lawyer is very wealthy and wishes to have all of his desires attended to immediately on his terms. On the contrary the scriveners suffer from hard work, which can cause miscommunication with authority. The point of view is first person with the lawyer being the central narrator. You see everything through the eyes of the lawyer, who is affected by Bartleby’s inaction. Through this perspective I can point out the conflicted feelings of the lawyer toward the copyists or scriveners. The narrator gives a tone of interest and frustration. It is very important to understand who is telling the story and how he connects with the story. Throughout the story the lawyer works both selfishly and kindly towards Bartleby.
He attempts in many ways to comfort him so that Bartleby can open up to him and be willing to change his stance. At the same time he thinks in such a greedy state of mind, that at times I believe he is in it for his self-conscience only. It could be because of their different titles and life styles that these two never end up on the same page. The story consists of many characters but I shall refer to, all of whom support my theme. These characters are the lawyer, Bartleby, and Nippers. My understanding is that the lawyer is the protagonist as well the round character. Bartleby and Nippers are the antagonists and flat characters. One can argue that Bartleby is both flat and round. The lawyer is labeled this way because the short story helps us to understand him best. I identified with him and view the short story through his eyes. His quest to help and understand becomes our own. The lawyer is a guy who goes about his life in the easiest way possible. He says, “I am a man who, from his youth upwards, has been filled with a profound conviction the easiest way of life is the best”(3).
You can already predict that a man with such motive will never receive the highest rewards there is for going through the hard paths of life. Nor understand one that is going through a harder path. You realize this when you figure out that his biggest issue is to understand completely, which displays in his treatment of his copyists or scriveners and himself. The lawyer also has a strong aspect that helps my theme in that he actually cares for Bartleby. As I have previously said, he does many favors for him. Bartleby is the lawyers’ biggest issue throughout the story. Nippers another scrivener is described by the narrator as a young man plagued, by the two evils of ambition and indigestion. His indigestion makes him irritable and angry in the morning, but as it goes away he becomes calmer. Nippers is productive when Turkey is not, and vice-versa. Turkey is one of the other scriveners. There is a point in the story, where the lawyer is telling us the reader, that Nippers is discontent with the height of his working station. He put chips under it, blocks of various sorts, bits of pasteboard, and at last went so far as to attempt an exquisite adjustment by final pieces of folded blotting-paper.
But no invention would answer. If, for the sake of easing his back, he brought the table lid at a sharp angle well up towards his chin, and wrote there like a man using the steep roof of a Dutch house for his desk:–then he declared that it stopped the circulation in his arms. If now he lowered the table to his waistbands, and stooped over it in writing, then there was a sore aching in his back. In short, the truth of the matter was, Nippers knew not what he wanted. Or, if he wanted anything, it was to be rid of a scrivener’s table altogether. (7) This observation is probably true, and rather perceptive of the lawyer. He does seem to understand and sympathize with his employee’s situation, but that does not mean he makes any move to change it except to try rearranging so there are fewer blots for him to deal with. I take this to be an act of selfishness. In the lawyers’ defense, Bartleby is a frustrating character to comprehend. What I do know is that he has incredible mental strength. His passive resistance to anything demanded of him or suggested to him is unbreakable.
This is a trait that irritates the lawyer. He says, “Nothing so aggravates an earnest person as a passive resistance”(15). It being hard to understand Bartleby, I still find his character to be normal in a way. People have the right to prefer not to do something or better put, prefer to do what they want. See in society, people have the power to either help or destroy someone, or choose to do neither. Sometimes they will look after their own self-interest and only view from their own window instead of attempting to view out of their neighbors window. For example, there was a point in the story where the lawyer and all the other scriveners ganged up on poor Bartleby and criticized him for only wanting to do his writing and prefer not to do something else. In a big turn of events, this is when Bartleby decides to stop working altogether. The lawyer then lashes out asking how, why, what’s next? Then for the first time Bartleby does not respond that he prefer not to but says, “Do you not see the reason for yourself”(25). He is confronting the lawyer finally, asking if he even realizes what the problem really is.
The lawyer goes on to believe that because of placing Bartleby in a workstation that faces dead wall scenery that he has become somewhat impaired with his eyesight and that is the reason why Bartleby stops working. The lawyer immediately thinks the problem is a physical one. Evidently, his understanding of “seeing” is quite different from Bartleby’s. In comparison to try and understand what I mean. Take the author Herman Melville as the prime example. Melville was the writer for Moby Dick; today the book is a legend. In Melville’s time Moby Dick was not well respected and critics prefer he go back to his old interests of writing. This is something Melville never preferred and had to live with up to his death. I take it that Bartleby is a representation of Melville’s feelings at that time. Bartleby has the right to do whatever he wants and can only blame himself for any decisive outcome from it. The lawyer though selfish minded is also caring like I have said. Over and over in his attempt to understand Bartleby, he bends over backwards to offer any type of help or adjustment to comfort him. He allows him to stay at his office even though he refuses to do work. He offers him to live in his own home to prevent him from going to jail. Finally he visits him in jail one last time to offer any kind of help to better the lost individual.
The question then occurred to me, what more can one do for another? Another is, why keep trying when the other person does not even bother to meet you half way? The answer is that there is only so much you can do to help someone until it is his or her turn to put the same effort in. In this case Bartleby refused to take any of the lawyers help and was very stubborn in his stance. When one does not want to change their mind then there is nothing you can do. It took the lawyer the entire story to realize this. Ending with the fall of Bartleby due to his stubbornness. Through the entire story, the lawyer failed to connect with his employees. He views and values himself more highly than others it seems. At the same time Bartleby failed to communicate with him or the rest of the world.
His actions in attempt to connect with the scriveners were only to benefit him except when it came to Bartleby. Bartleby altered his way of thought and he went about wanting to help Bartleby. He always seems to let things go through one ear and out the other only thinking in his own state of mind. Every attempt he ruins it by making it seem to be a charitable or selfish act. Whether it was to restore peace in his office, save money or to reward his conscience, he was always thinking in his own benefit. Only when it came to Bartleby did he act in kindness. Bartleby failed to communicate throughout the story. It taught us that it does not matter how much you attempt to help a person, it only matters how much that person is willing to help him or herself first.