Sunday, September 7, 2008

Social Class in Short Fiction

In both “Bartleby, The Scrivener” and “The Son’s Veto,” a great deal of the dramatic tension is drawn from the rigid social class system that defined the period in which both these stories were written.

In “Bartleby, The Scrivener,” a narrating lawyer becomes perplexed when a freshly hired copyist, Bartleby, refuses to do anything that is asked of him. Bartleby is surrounded by a dark melancholy that could represent the plight of the proletariat in the time surrounding the industrial revolution. The narrator is unable to understand Bartleby’s depression to the point of obsession. He is so far separated from his workers that Bartleby’s actions seem unwarranted and alien.

“The Son’s Veto” seems to make the point that caste systems steal from people their own humanity. A young maid named Sophy refuses a poor suitor in favor of a local aristocrat. She is married to him for some time and has a son named Randolf with this man. Her rich husband dies and she begins conversing with her former suitor but is unable to marry because Randolf does not approve her marrying a commoner. Sophy deeply wanted to be remarried, to quit the city and her loneliness. Randolf could not grant his mother the happiness she desired because of his pride as a gentleman. The story suggests that Sophy may not have had to dies alone in misery had Randolf cared more about her than his title.
Both of these stories comment on the deplorable caste system of the nineteenth century. They paint pictures of a world where social class makes not only the poor miserable, but also the wealthy. Perhaps these stories call for a more egalitarian society.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

I cannot figure out how to post. Wow.

While some may call Montresor’s sanity into question based on his outrageous path to vengeance, it takes cleverness and intelligence to perform such an act of retribution with the detailed, precise execution exhibited by the protagonist of Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado. However, his lucidity is actually confirmed in the first paragraph.

Through careful, meticulous planning, and a little booze, Montresor uses the vices of Fortunato to seize control of his offender’s decision-making ability. Preying on both Fortunato’s pride as a wine connoisseur and his weakness for the spirit, particularly a cask of top-shelf Amontillado, Montresor traps him with his own flaws. To be specific, choosing Amontillado to ensnare Fortunato’s interest rather than “a nice Merlot,” Montresor removes any doubt of fulfilling his devious plot; similarly, the mention of the acquaintance Luchresi was guaranteed to elicit Fortunato’s fateful pride. Additionally, the elements of the Carnival ambience seem to act as a deal-breaker; without the festivities, Montresor’s plight might warrant a different response from Fortunato given his health.

However, the means outrank the ends in importance of proving Montresor’s sanity. The thought process exhibited in the first paragraph suggests the depths of Montresor’s thinking surpass that of an insane lunatic. He completely understands the need to adequately administer vengeance; before the most recent insult, Montresor made it a point to let bygones be bygones and allow other perceived injustices to pass with only a feeling of contempt for Fortunato. Montresor understands how his actions may be taken by the reader.

An insane, psychotic human being does not have the composure and mental capacity to self-analyze the proofs required to reach the ultimate decision of premeditated murder. Montresor’s examination displays the engaged and aware psyche of a sane, albeit cold-blooded, man.