narrative styles in Melville’s Bartleby, Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym, and Hawthorne’s The House of Seven Gables. How all three authors utilize a “conversational” tone for the function of their work.
In works by three of the most classically American authors of the nineteenth century, Melville, Poe, and Hawthorne, a trait that can be considered common to all three authors is pronounced clearly as a means to their narration. This trait is that of deploying a narrative laden with- and moreover led by –conversational phrasing and asides. The flow of passages in these authors’ works, Bartleby, Arthur Gordon Pym, and The House of Seven Gables, takes on a spoken structure, and numerous operations are made by each writer to establish a link with the reader as though he or she is actually engaged in an exchange of living conversation with the author. This approach is probably quite intentional and may be seen, since it is occurring in some of the most celebrated American authors of the period, to be one that portrays the literary mindset and mechanic at large during the time in which these books were written.
In Melville’s Bartleby, this distinction becomes clear immediately. Although any first-person narrative is designed to impart upon the reader a close proximity to the protagonist, there are extra measures apparent in the style of this short story that furthers this. Shortly into the beginning of the narration, the voice gives the following passage (pg. 4): “I do not speak it in vanity, but simply to record the fact, that I was not unemployed in my profession by the late John Jacob Astor, I name which, I admit, I love to repeat, for it hath a rounded and orbicular sound to it, and rings like unto bullion. I will freely add, that I was not insensible to the late John Jacob Astor’s good opinion.” This single block of text is heavily charged with conversational phrasing: “I do not speak it in vanity;” “I admit, I love to repeat;” “I will freely add.” Such structures signal that the voice is one issuing from not merely from a writer, but rather from a speaker. Furthermore, the structure of the following passages takes on the form of an oral report in which the narrator goes through descriptions of his colleagues point-by-point, as though he is simply trying to introduce them as concepts not to be forgotten throughout the ensuing lecture rather than to devise a manner through which to splice these descriptions of the other characters into the following text more effectively. This feature is then emphasized when the narrator, having finished his resume of Nippers and Turkey, begins his next passage as though backtracking through his speech (pg. 10): “I should have stated before that…”
In The House of Seven Gables Nathaniel Hawthorne utilizes the conversational approach perhaps the most overtly of any of the three authors, at times situating the narration in the first person plural, which thereby has the effect of drawing an...