Discussion question chapter 4 | English homework help


For this discussion board, choose from either “Spunk” or “Bartleby, The Scrivener” and the bold words in Chapter 4 to narrow your topic, and then answer the question “how did the author use this element in this story” in order to create your controlling idea.

Characters are of extreme importance to literary writing. Commercial stories, or popular stories, value plot development over character development; often one or two dimensional characters are used in order to create suspense and thrilling twists and turns. Literary stories, conversely, use plot as a vehicle to present multi-faceted, complex characters, making the plot of secondary importance by deemphasizing it in order to focus on the characters and make them more like us, human and therefore comprised of many different characteristics instead of just a few.

Dickens’s characters are known for being masterful examples of how this can work out in a way that is unexpected and surprising. Pay close attention to how he accomplishes this with characterization. As chapter 4 will explain, characterization is the manner in which authors give their readers hints as to what their character’s motivations are. Bad characters, as in unrealistic ones, can not only be bad because they are imbued with simplistic motivations but also unexplained or unconvincing motivations. Authors understand that they are given by their readers a modicum of suspension of disbelief, and when they abuse this allowance, it can cause readers to feel manipulated and condescended to.

The book points out the categories that characters can fall into based on how they are characterized and to what degree they are or are not developed. I’ve always felt like Melville’s lawyer was a fascinating character study and that his characterization was developed via the way he responds to the enigma that is Bartleby. For me, Bartleby is less a character than he is a symbol for reality itself, the way it can be so complex and unassailable that we are left with no clear path forward. When we are unsure about what reality is presenting us with, we can perceive it as a threat, physical or metaphysical, simply because of our inability to categorize it as either benign or threatening, revealing us by how we choose to deal with it, either fighting it or running from it. It is pretty obvious which response the Lawyer chooses primarily. Here is an example of a thesis using a darkened word from chapter 4 for the narrowed topic that deals with the manner in which Melville characterizes the lawyer using Bartleby:

Melville’s titular character in “Bartleby the Scrivener” functions as a foil to the protagonist, which allows Melville to highlight the lawyer’s refusal to deal with his fate. 

As I pointed out, another issue that can arise with an author’s choices when characterizing is the character’s motivations can be unconvincing. If a character does something we find to be absurd and unrealistic, we can still find the behavior convincing and meaningful if we find the manner in which the character is characterized plausible:

In Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” the author shows the protagonist’s motivations in very subtle ways in the beginning of the story and justifies the lawyer’s extreme behavior at the end. Moving his entire law practice to escape the responsibility of dealing with Bartleby’s persistence, may seem an unconvincing behavior on the narrator’s part that makes little sense to the reader. However, by examining the vagaries of the lawyer’s behavior early in the story, the big move begins to be illuminated in a new way. When he is explaining the ins and outs of his law practice, specifically concerning the eccentricities of his employees, the lawyer admits his relief that Nipper and Turkey’s “fits relieved each other, like guards,” which he finds to be “a good natural arrangement, under the circumstances”(133). Although this admission seems to be some of Melville’s characteristic humor at first, when considered again after his character retreats from the enigma that is Bartleby instead of confronting him more aggressively, we can see that this is a precise characterization on the author’s behalf, meant to suggest the lawyer is a man altogether lacking in assertiveness, who would rather go with the flow than make waves, no matter how absurd this forces him to behave.   

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