The story of Herman Melville in “Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street” is a grotesque narration about a poor office worker whose unusual behavior breaks the usual rhythm of business life and makes others doubt the correctness of the world order. Whereas Ralph Ellison in his “Battle Royale” writes about the life experience and struggles of a person, who is insignificant and “invisible” in society. Both literary pieces of work share similar messages of human freedom and how slavery might be entrenched and deeply embedded in the social psyche. The main fear of authors is that slavery cannot entirely disappear. Therefore, it will only change its form and morphology to become subtler and more deceptive.
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Ralph Ellison, unlike the prose writer Herman Melville, works in different genres, while in prose he has his own distinctive style and particular point of view, largely due to his adherence to the cultural traditions of the American South. In the African-American spread, this implies greater simplicity of expression, which Ralph Ellison in “Battle Royale” combines with stylistic virtuosity (Montesano 87).
From his slave ancestors, the writer inherited a strong and deeply personal religious feeling, a sense of the holiness of family and kindred bonds and many stories – both folklore and every day, told to his mother and grandmother about their ancestors’ grief and hatred, but also kindness and love (Montesano 85). The keen desire to fix these stories so that they would not be forgotten, and Ralph Ellison led to literature in a strong original talent that found its way despite the family’s poverty and poorly educated surroundings.
In many ways, thanks to the stream introduced by the newest African-American prose, primarily by the works of Herman Melville and Ralph Ellison, the general mood of American literature of the last two decades of this century has changed. From the idea of global impassability and denial of the rationality of living arrangement, he turned to the search for a faint meaning of existence (Bikundo 6). He sees this meaning in human unity — in the family, in society, in the union of all people into a single “global community.”
When Europeans first began to colonize North America, there was a huge amount of free land. Therefore, they had an urgent need for labor, preferably cheap, to cultivate this land. The first slaves were white people, who were called contract slaves. In order to leave Europe and get the opportunity to grab a piece of land in the New World, they were ready to pay for their journey with hard work for several years.
Therefore, in the early 17th century, the Dutch ship solved this problem and brought the first black slaves from Africa. In the 17th and 18th centuries, black slaves worked mainly on the plantations of tobacco, rice, and indigo on the southern coast (Shafer 452). After the American Revolution, many colonists (especially in the north, where slavery was relatively unimportant for the economy) began to associate the oppression of black slaves with their abuse by the British and demand the abolition of slavery.
The last one and a half decades of the 19th century was marked by the intensification of the country’s intellectual life: a whole group of thinkers appeared who tried to solve both eternal philosophical questions and questions of social justice and humanity. Philosophers Josiah Royce, George Santayana, William James, Charles Sanders Pierce, John Dewey, Oliver Wendell Holmes as law specialist, economists and sociologists Thorstein Veblen, Herbert Crowley, Lester Frank Ward, Henry George, and America’s greatest black thinker William Dubu complained about superficial judgments and “vicious ideology” that occupied the “mental space of the United States.”
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The new school of American philosophers and psychologists sought to ensure that the seemingly abstract arguments about materialism, idealism, determinism, and free will were established in the minds of Americans as something that directly affected them (Shafer 449). In this way, they tried to prevent the washing out of the true human foundations of life by a massive flow of mechanical forces. Publishing in the country continued to proliferate. Farmers, factory workers, small townspeople, each ethnic group, residents of each region now had their newspaper or magazine.
The distinctive features of the Melville storytelling in “Bartleby the Scrivener” are deep philosophical problems, and complex artistic symbolism. Naturally, they open space for the most different interpretations of his work. Melville is declared to be the forerunner of European modernism, now a fighter-denunciator of American imperialism, now a figure completely isolated, having no points of contact with reality, or analogs in world literature (Bikundo 5).
Meanwhile, all this is equally wrong. G. Melville is a romantic and American, closely connected with public life, with the ideological and artistic thought of his country and his time – with romantic humanism. His work is passionate in style and method: the most complex images-symbols directly go back to the concepts of the idealistic philosophy of being. As for the particular universality of the sound, the cosmism of his best works, this is, of course, the properties of genius.
Ralph Ellison and Herman Melville were proponents of classicist forms, which highly distinguished both authors from other intellectual writers. It can be seen through similarity analysis of “Battle Royale” and “Bartleby the Scrivener”. The common ground of their works was a comparison of America with ancient Greece and Rome, and national heroes with the characters of the Bible or Greek mythology (Montesano 86).
Trying to infuse “new wine into old bottles” in this way, they found not only the vitality of cultural dependence on Britain but also instinctive fear of cultural anarchy that could begin after the American Revolution; they preferred proven forms of expression to forms spontaneous. It is unlikely that such considerations occupied Ralph Ellison; he merely wrote as he learned, and he learned from examples of great English poetry and the lyrics of great American contemporaries. His poems are also replete with old and biblical reminiscences and use the language of British epic poetry; they derived Niobe and Goliath, the genius of the American Revolution and General Washington.
In conclusion, despite all sorts of mistakes, delusions, the inertia of the traditions of European culture, the rush of the writers of the young republic to literary autonomy was impressive: it paved the way for the in-depth artistic development of America in the literature of the literary centuries. In this regard, it is important to see how Herman Melville in “Bartleby the Scrivener”, as well as Ralph Ellison in “Battle Royale” with black cultural background, made a crucial contribution to the development of the original literature of their country. Their writings serve as first-hand evidence of how and what they suffered and influenced in the given independent democratic state.
Bikundo, Edwin. “Follow Your Leader – I Prefer not to: Slavery, Giorgio Agamben and Herman Melville”. Law, Culture and the Humanities, vol. 1, no. 1, 2018, pp. 2-7.
Montesano, Micheal C. “Book Review: F.B. eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s ghostreaders framed African American literature”. Journal of Black Studies, vol. 49, no. 1, 2017, pp. 85-88.
Shafer, Gregory. “Teaching the African American Experience: History and Culture”. Journal of Black Studies, vol. 46, no. 5, 2015, pp. 447-461.