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Self Representation In William Wilson By Edgar Allan Poe And Bartleby, The Scrivener By Herman Melville

2279 words - 9 pages

The stories William Wilson by Edgar Allan Poe and Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville are useful examples to discuss the difficulties of self-representation. While the narrator in Poe’s tale begs us to “let me call myself, for the present, William Wilson” the complex self-representation here is also prevalent in the heart of Melville’s story. West's Encyclopedia of American Law tells us that “courts usually discourage self-representation …even attorneys are well advised to hire another attorney.” The same problems with self-representation occur in literature. The unnamed narrator in Melville’s tale shows the complexities of self-representation through age, his relationship to Astor, anonymity, deceit and his complex values. Poe’s narrator also reveals much about himself; that his name is false, that he shares similarities to Poe and that he has a peculiar memory. Both stories are great examples of the complexities of literary self-representation – and how narrators, like lawyers, should not represent themselves.
In Melville’s tale, the narrator immediately declares that he is “a rather elderly man” (p.1483). This introduction causes the readership to conclude he is a person of authority and respect - based on the common stereotype that age leads to wisdom – but due to the complex nature of self-representation, it may also lead the readers to be sceptical on his narrative reliability; forgetfulness is another factor associated with seniority. The literal representation of the self here as elderly is clearly important. It is the first line of the story he recounts. The narrator wishes to impress the readers and act as a contrast to the “young” Bartleby whom he is yet to introduce. He wishes to appear as the complete opposite to his antagonist from the start.
The narrator also tells us of his personal qualities firstly “prudence; my next, method. I do not speak it in vanity…I will freely add, that I was not insensible to the late John Jacob Astor’s good opinion” (p.1484). Dilworth tells us that Astor was known as “the Landlord of New York” and that “while acquiring wealth in this way, Astor made many people suffer… he was widely despised” most importantly that “most New Yorkers shared this opinion of Astor at the time of the first publication of Melville's story”. By associating with Astor, an individual known for the ruining of other’s lives through mortgage foreclosures, the narrator aligns himself with the reputation of a sinner – even though he claims to have “prudence” and “method” as qualities; clearly, there is nothing prudent or straightforward in the actions of Astor, who coldly took the money of those who needed it most. Though he considers Astor to be a great man, and takes his compliments highly, it shows that the narrator’s views of greatness are completely opposite to popular opinion. He thinks that by representing himself in this way – as a man favoured by a famous lawyer- he will appear impressive and integral. ...

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