Bartleby the Scrivener

The American Way

The characters of many poems, stories, and other works of art act as critics or representations of the author's society. American writers Benjamin Franklin and Herman Melville both commented on their respective eras using this method. Franklin uses Poor Richard in "The Way to Wealth" to give voice to a new nation in the late 18th century. Likewise, Melville contemplates 19th century industrialization and laissez-faire capitalism through a nameless narrator in "Bartleby", the Scrivener. The portraits of America illustrated by these two characters reveal a disparity between the two writers' views of society. Franklin uses Poor Richard to inspire people to take advantage of the economic opportunities opened up by the new America, thus creating an optimistic view of society. In contrast, Melville's narrator, the Scrivener, is deeply disturbed by Bartleby, a social outcast, thereby critiquing the American capitalist ideal.

To turn Poor Richard into a glorification of American ideals, Franklin casts him as a model citizen who garners the admiration of his countrymen. The capitalist freedom of economic self-determination - though limited to white males - was developing into an American value during Franklin's time. Poor Richard's...

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