Narrative Styles Melville, Poe, Hawthorne Essay, Research Paper
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 further this. Shortly into the beginning of the narration, the voice give 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 assumed commonality between the reader and the party of the narrator. Indeed his use of ‘we’ is scattered through the entire book, as in the passage (pg. 139): “We must not stain our page with any contemporary scandal, to a similar purport, that may have been whispered against the judge,” and the in this passage further on (pg. 139.):
But it is too fruitful a subject, this of hereditary resemblances,-the frequent recurrence of which, in a direct line, is truly unaccountable, when we consider how large an accumulation of ancestry lies behind every man, at the distance of one or two centuries. We shall only add, therefore, that the Puritan- so, at least, says chimney-corner tradition, which so often preserves traits of character with marvelous fidelity -was bold, imperious, relentless, crafty… …Whether the judge in any degree resembled him, the further progress of our narrative may show.
Not only does Hawthorne’s use of we nominate an intimacy between the literary space between writer and reader, but it furthermore serves to assume that the reader is of like mind. Such a tactic aligns the morality of speaker and audience, and in doing so forms a sense of idealistic community. This occurs with regularity throughout the text. To cite a further example (pg.205): “As to the main point- may we never live to doubt it! -as to the better centuries that are coming, the artist was surely right” indicates that Hawthorne feels just in determining the attitude of a reader invisible from his vantage point. Incidentally, this ends up being one of the very characteristic devices that leads a modern reader to date Hawthorne psychologically, as few writers from more modern periods would ever put much stock in such assumptions.
Finally, Poe, in his tale The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, employs the occasional orientation of the first person plural in a manner similar to Hawthorne’s, ([pg. 13] “In no affairs of mere prejudice, pro or con, do we induce inferences with entire certainty, even from the most simple data”) as well as a more abstract feature which also serves to establish a sense of conversation or direct address in the text: the inclusion of facts and explanatory data about sailing. These points impression the reader as though receiving the information from an animated storyteller first-hand. For example (pg. 54):
As long as the sail holds, a well-modeled vessel will maintain her situation, and ride every sea, as if instinct with life and reason. If the violence of the wind, however, should tear the sail into pieces (a feat which it requires a perfect hurricane to accomplish under ordinary circumstances) then there is imminent danger… …Some vessels will lie to under no sail whatever, but they are not to be trusted at sea.
Such reports are common throughout this story, and because of their positioning between segments of a more interpersonal nature, they render an effect of listening to their delivery rather than merely reading them, especially as they are often sewn back into the thread of the story via an expression such as one make in an oral presentation. The above passage, for example, is tied back into the narrative by “But to return from this digression.”
Of the three pieces examined, Poe’s is the least overt in the narrative features described. His approach has more inventive aspects to it, and while it also differs most radically in detail and content, Arthur Gordon Pym, put alongside the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, seems to suggest a step into more modern story-telling. This proposition is easily evidenced in face of the widely accepted viewpoint that Poe was the first true developer of the mystery or crime story. And if he is the most modern and his narrative style the least similar to that of either Melville or Hawthorne in the sense described earlier, than this trait of conversational address throughout a text may be all the more considered as emblematic of fiction in nineteenth century America.