The stories “The Purloined Letter” by Edgar Allan Poe” and “Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville are absolutely different in content but what is interesting about them is the role of the narrator which is very important in these stories because namely narrators help the reader to find out more about the characters of the story and how they are connected with everything which is going on. After reading these two stories some people state that the narrators in them perform one and the same informative function, however, the others keep to the point that the narrator of the “Purloined Letter” has more influence on the events taking place in the story and can change them whereas the narrator of “Bartleby the Scrivener” does not have powers to affect the course of the events. As a result, there arises a necessity to consider the differences and similarities of the roles of narrators in “The Purloined Letter” and “Bartleby the Scrivener”.
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What should be mentioned above all is that the narrator in “The Purloined Letter” serves as means of controlling and dominating. The domination can be observed in numerous scene descriptions and in telling the readers about different characters, their appearance, and their life in general. For instance, he describes the Prefect as a person who treats the things he does not understand as the odd ones. The domination can also be felt when the crime scenes or just the interior of premises is described because the narrator is trying to show that he knows more about what’s going on in the story even such insignificant details as to where the table is and in which order are the papers lying on it. This also helps the reader to feel that the narrator is perfectly aware of the events which take place in the story and this makes the readers want to ask the narrator different questions which is a sign of his domination. The narrator’s controlling lies in the fact that he is the only one who knows what exactly is going on and, moreover, knows what the story is going to end with thus being able to control the thoughts of the reader and influence them because it is only the narrator who can evoke in the readers positive or negative emotions about certain characters or events. The readers trust the narrator and their overall impression about the story depends on what exactly the author wants to tell because no matter which attitudes the narrator is going to express regarding this or that event or character, the reader will necessarily take after his point of view and will start thinking about the characters in narrator’s way.
Another role of the narrator in this story is to inform the reader about the events and about something that may not be clear from the context. He gives some explanations and additional information about new people that are introduced into the story. Dupin is often turning to his unnamed friend for a piece of advice and told him about his achievements and problems with the investigation, namely that some of his searches turned out to be unsuccessful. What’s more, the narrator is often asking Dupin questions that can help him in his investigation. For instance, he is asking Dupin what exactly he was trying to do when replacing the letter with a facsimile and how it is useful for the investigation. The narrator here performs the function of not somebody who is just shared impressions with but to some extent of a supervisor and assistant in the process of investigation. He performs the role of Dupin’s friend who is older and more experienced when it comes to the investigation and whose advice Dupin can rely upon and trust. The importance of the narrator in “The Purloined Letter” consists namely in his domination over the readers and the protagonist of the story because it evokes respect to him and makes the readers sure that everything is under control.
In contrast, in “Bartleby the Scrivener” the narrator is part of the story and he is telling it by using examples of what he came through. He tells the stories of other characters in a way he considers right and does not make readers choose who is a good or evil character. The narrator here is an active participant who just leaves the story to the judgment of readers trying to convince the reader in the end that he was not guilty in the death of Bartleby. Nevertheless, just like in the first two stories the role of the narrator in “Bartleby the Scrivener” is also informative. It is also worth mentioning that unlike “The Purloined Letter” the narrator in Bartleby the Scrivener” does not have a role of domination or even controlling of the readers’ thoughts. He is just laying out the events performing the purely informative function. He does not question or gives advice to the characters. What’s more, the narrator when telling the story offers the reader to be a judge and to consider the events of the story in the way he or she considers necessary. The narrator is sort of guilty before the reader and suggests him or her this story for judgment, expecting that the verdict will not be very strict. It is namely because of this that the narrator is trying to tell the reader that Bartleby died not because of him. He is searching for excuses that would justify his actions and will make him look innocent in the eyes of other people. Just like in “The Purloined Letter” the narrator here is unnamed but we still know some facts about him, to be more exact, that he is a lawyer but not a very reliable one because he is not experienced. In the first story, we could observe the domination of the narrator over the reader and over Dupin, one of the characters. Nothing like this can be found in “Bartleby the Scrivener” where the narrator is on the same level with the reader and the character, Bartleby. He does not also exercise any control over the reader and though he knows what the story ends with he is not aiming to show this. His aim is to tell the story in all the details and let the reader have his or her own opinion about it. The role of the narrator in “Bartleby the Scrivener” is also very important because he is telling the story and the readers believe in it because the narrator presents himself as the participant of the story thus convincing the reader that he does not lie. His importance also lies in the fact that he helps readers to become participants of the story by offering them to judge the situation he got into.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the roles of the narrators in “The Purloined Letter” and “Bartleby the Scrivener” are almost completely different with the only similarity being informing the reader about the events and adding explanations to what is unclear. The main difference is that the narrator of “The Purloined Letter” is dominating over the readers while the narrator of “Bartleby the Scrivener” imparts the story with the readers without questioning anyone or telling the characters what to do. The narrator of “The purloined Letter” is constantly interacting with the protagonist of the story and asking him different questions when the narrator of “Bartleby the Scrivener” is the protagonist himself.
- Melville, H. (2011). Bartleby, the Scrivener a story of wall-street. Lightning Source.
- Melville, H. (2021). Bartleby, the Scrivener illustrated.
- Poe, E. (2017). The purloined letter. Litres.
- Poe, E. A. (2019). The purloined letter. WS.