Industry,Greed, and the Individual
Thethemes of industry, greed, and the individual in the two stories areexplicit in throughout the plots. Industry has a huge influence onthe characterization of the stories because they are both based in acapitalist society that depends on industrial production for thoseproducts that individuals use, the decisions they make in life andtheir general life.Both “Bartleby the Scrivener” and “The fallof the house of usher” take place in 1800s, which was a critical inthe industrial revolution. The former takes place in 1853 while thelater takes place in 1839. Throughout both stories the individualperson is vulnerable to events that may be beyond their control. In“Bartleby the Scrivener”, Bartleby is portrayed in the book as aneccentric person who resents the changes that happen in the societyand rejects the idea that he has to conform to those changes.Although he prefers to lead an old-fashioned way of life that doesnot befit the social pressure of the industrial resolution, he laterconcedes to society because there is no other choice but to conformto the emerging norms.In one way or another, industry, greed, and theindividual as both the villain and the victim in both stories cannotbe overstated because they are dominant themes that both authorsrevolve around to build the plot and characterization in bothstories.
Bartlebyis the victim of a fast-changing society and the greed that comeswith the consumerism culture that grows during the capitalist age ofthe industrial revolution. “The fall of the house of usher” doesnot directly address the theme of industry, but greed and theindividual take a thematic center stage. In the Gothic terror, Poe,the writer of “the fall of the house of usher” uses thenarrator’s extreme emotions of love and hate over himself as theprojection of individualism. The love for himself and the hate to therival embodies the individualism that characterizes capitalistsocieties in the west and during the period when the story waswritten: the period of the industrial revolution.
Melville’s“Bartleby the Scrivener” completely explores industry, greed, andthe individual in a more direct and complete way than Poe’s “thefall of the house of usher”. The story revolves one particularindividual, Bartleby, implying that Melville intended narrow down theeffects of capitalism and industry on the individual rather than theentire society. Bartleby is isolated and alienated by the society andhe actually a disposables(Tally Jr 18). He also suffers the cruelhand of the society when he refuses to respect authority and, indeed,he pays the price for his actions. The mechanical work thatcharacterizes the industrial revolution of Bartleby’s time and themindless capitalists that control it threaten and undermine hishappiness, his social rights, and, to a very large extent, hisliberty.
Theindustrial society introduces other rights that seem unfamiliar toBartleby, the right to own property, which actually place him inconflicting position with the society. Through Bartleby, the readersexperiences the plight of individual people who fall victim of acapitalist society composed of selfish people driven by greed ratherthan human values. The lawyer is the character that embodies thetheme of greed in “Bartleby the scrivener”. He fires Bartlebyafter he refuses to cooperate while working for him as a copier.After being fired, Bartleby refuses to vacate the premises of thelawyers of offices prompting him to take the extreme action of theleaving it for another occupant (26).Bartleby is charged as a vagrantand jailed and he later dies in jail. Capitalism and the pursuit ofwealth in the industrial society influence the actions of the lawyerto fire Bartleby and leave him to face the wrath of the office’snew occupant. Bartleby’s death portrays him as the martyr of thecapitalist industrial period that was run by greedy people pursuingwealth at all costs including denying poor people of their libertyand happiness because they considered them unproductive.
UnlikeMelville’s “Bartleby the scrivener” Poe’s “the fall of thehouse of usher” has ‘The individual as the main theme.In fact thestory is about the disruption of an individual’s personality bywhat goes on around them. The main characters, Roderick and Madelineare the only people remaining in the long and honored family lineageof “the house of usher”. The destruction of the “house ofusher’ is a s a result of intermarriages within the family thatcauses genetic problems. The narrator subtly suggests that thestrange diseases that Roderick and Medline and the fate of death theyface is as a generation problem rather than a problem that affectsboth of them in their individual capacities(Poe 13). However, thePoe’s thematic concern is the way Roderick and Madeline’sindividual personalities become deranged and dissipated by the terrorthey face.
Indeed,the terror that the two twin siblings experience destroys theirvulnerable and fragile minds. Roderick goes mad and eventually diesafter witnessing the terror that his twin sister goes through todeath and also his own terror caused by the strange disease he sufferfrom. The theme of “The individual” in this story reinforceshuman nature as an aspect that meaningfully defines individualpeople. Through the relationship between Madeline and Roderick, it isevident that not even the terror of death is meaningful to theindividual unless it elicits a certain sense of human nature thatdefines individuals. Firstly, Roderick’s reaction to Madeline’ssickness shows that the two have an automatic response to each evenwithout first becoming aware of the relationship. As Madeline’scondition deteriorates and finally dies Roderick‘s mental andphysical condition also deteriorates simultaneously. The narratoralso has emotional connections to the plight of “The Usher family”since they were boyhood friends.
Eventhe symbolism that Poe chooses to use in “the fall of the house ofUsher” embodies the theme of “The individual as a central themein the story.In the beginning of the story, Usher’s mansion hascracks and fissures as a result of decaying. The fracture and thecracks show that the individual personalities of Roderick andMadeline will be destroyed forever by the predicament they face fromwhat appears to be a generational burden. Furthermore, an individualperson is also portrayed in the story as capable of detaching theirintellect to physical experiences. Roderick is averse to his feelingsand prematurely puts his twin sister in the tomb. The miraculousreturn of Madeline from her tomb to claim the destroyed personalityof Roderick show that one’s individualism and personality is verypowerful even in death.
Inconclusion, both stories the individual person is vulnerable toevents that may be beyond their control. In “Bartleby theScrivener”, Bartleby is portrayed in the book as an eccentricperson who resents the changes that happen in the society and rejectsthe idea that he has to conform to those changes. Although he prefersto lead an old-fashioned way of life that does not befit the socialpressure of the industrial resolution, he later concedes to societybecause there is no other choice but to conform to the emergingnorms. In the story, “The fall of the house of Usher”, thecentral theme is “The individual”, which Poe portrays as beingvery powerful even in death.
Poe,Edgar Allan. TheFall of the House of Usher.Arsalan Ahmed, 2015.
TallyJr, Robert T. "Bartleby, the Scrivener." Alienation(2009): 1.