Sunday, September 7, 2008

Societal Archetypes and the Individual

Is there one set, tried and true archetype that reaches across cultural boundaries, bridging national borders, and conquering gender and racial issues? I argue that yes, to some extent, there is. However, it may not be in ways we like to believe, or ways we consciously accept. In regards to the reading material Young Goodman Brown and Bartleby the Scrivener, by Edgar Allen Poe and Herman Melville respectively, the class, as a whole, seemed to come to the conclusion that Goodman Brown is society’s archetype, the very definition of the ‘everyman’, whilst Bartleby is a unique, strange, and deeply hard to relate to character. Whether or not you buy into that, though, is up to you; as Wilde once said, “Anything popular is wrong.” I argue that, though Bartleby is differs from what which we perceive as the basic principles of humanity, he is every bit an archetype as Goodman Brown. Albeit, in a different manner.

Bartleby does not conform to the norm (it rhymes, heh). Instead, he begins to alter those around him in order that they may conform to him, in a characteristically passive manner, of course. In Bartleby, we conceive, in part, us as we wish to be. I define Bartleby as a hero. Heroes are not normal people; in fact, they are nearly the opposite of normal people. Not the opposite in a traditional sense, but opposite in the sense that they have an innate ability to overcome, to beat the odds, to set their own terms for life. So, perhaps, the word ‘enhanced’ would be better than ‘opposite’. We as a society look up to hero characters, and attempt to shape ourselves through their example. Take Washington: sure he wasn’t a brilliant military strategist by any definition of the word, but his very presence on the battlefield, leading his troops from the front, rather than from the back, served as inspiration to his army, whose bravery and morale increased notably. I argued in class the other day that Bartleby was not mentally ill, he was not rebelling against humanity, he was transcending it. He is the ultimate existentialist. That’s my argument, and I’m sticking to it. Bartleby was almost an evolved form, philosophically speaking. As such, he began to shape those around him. From what we see through the short story, each character begins to use the word ‘prefer’, and in one passage this is nearly constant. I argue that, had the characters been in Bartleby’s presence for an extended period of time, they would each have adapted more of his characteristics, and eventually shaped themselves in his presence. Sorry this is late.


Ian Bonhotal said...

The second to last sentence of the first paragraph is meant to say, "I argue that, though Bartleby differs from those which we perceive as the basic principles of humanity, he is every bit the archetype Goodman Brown portrays."

The Independent Progressive said...

Interesting. Transcending as opposed to rebelling. I see it. Rebelling connotates still operating on society's terms, or else what is there to rebel against. The nuance for transcending is that it's not society's terms that dictate the change in the protagonist, but it's his own. This leads me to a question that your comment on my post about "the rebel." Is Bartleby really different from other protagonists or achetypes of them. You post helped me see that he is not. He has overcome something. Even in the text, we see that he sorted dead letters. In the story, he comes to "prefer not to." That's a change. And it's the dynamism experienced my many protagonists.