Lately, in the fickleness of what is my character and the ho-hum regularity that one could coin a catastrophe wrapped in a guise of orderly chaos (i.e. life), I feel as if I have either been neglecting my true love, that is my blog, much like Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin neglected Anna; or, it must be, that I have been unfaithful as Emma Bovary was indeed unfaithful to her husband Charles. (A brief moment here to recover from the Russian name inserted above.) Therefore, I will complete what has been an altogether wasted morning this Friday, as all Friday mornings seem to be thrown by the wayside these days, and comment again on a story by Mr. Herman Melville.
This week I had the task, nay, the privilege, to do a teaching presentation for my English methods class over a short story. Having just finished Moby Dick and having read Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener” last spring for class and last fall for inspiration in my fiction writing class, I decided it would be best to choose “Bartleby” as the story to do my presentation over.
I would like to take what I learned and give my highly cherished readers some insight into how this particular story has literally changed my life. Those who know me will have to conclude—I confess there is no other option—that I am a tad awkward at times, and that, if spent enough time with, I will do something that could be perhaps quite embarrassing and altogether condemning to my self esteem; and, in the end, one could even say that I am quite obnoxious—perhaps overbearing—at times. I would happen to agree with any one person who came to that conclusion, and it is because of this, I will give you some advice on how do deal with awkward and embarrassing situations (at your expense) and how to deal with obnoxious individuals like myself.
Melville’s “Bartleby” is perhaps my most favorite short story of all time. The reason is because of the characters preceding the advent of Bartleby: namely Nippers and Turkey, two law copyists. Melville introduces these characters in such an odd way that I must let him present them to you. This description of Turkey explains what he does in the office after his dinner time (noon).
[Turkey] was apt to be altogether too energetic. There was a strange, inflamed, flurried, flighty recklessness of activity about him. He would be incautious in dipping his pen into his inkstand. All his blots upon my documents were dropped there after twelve o’clock, meridian… some days, he went further, and was rather noisy… He made unpleasant racket with his chair; spilled his sand-box; in mending his pens, impatiently split them all to pieces, and threw them on the floor in a sudden passion; stood up, and leaned over his table, boxing his papers in a most indecorous manner, very sad to behold in an elderly man like him… in the afternoon, he was disposed, upon provocation, to be slightly rash with his tongue—in fact, insolent.
And again, we have Nippers who acts up before noon.
[Nippers had] a continual discontent with the height of his table where he worked… Nippers could never get his table to suite him. He put chips under it, blocks of various sorts, bits of pasteboard, and at last went so far as to attempt an exquisite adjustment, by final pieces of folded blotting paper. But no invention would answer. If, for the sake of easing his back, he brought the table-lid at a sharp angle well up towards his chin, and wrote there like a man using the steep roof of a Dutch house for his desk, then he declared that it stopped the circulation in his arms. If now he lowered the table to his waistbands, and stooped over it in writing, then there was a sore aching in his back. In short, the truth of the matter was, Nippers knew not what he wanted. Or, if he wanted anything, it was to be rid of a scrivener’s table altogether.
Later on we see more action of Nippers and his desk:
Nippers would sometimes impatiently rise from his seat, and stooping over his table, spread his arms wide apart, seize the whole desk, and move it, and jerk it, with a grim, grinding motion on the floor, as if the table were a perverse voluntary agent, intent on thwarting and vexing him, I plainly perceive that, for Nippers, brandy-and-water were altogether superfluous.
And so we have a brief sketch of these two characters. Now, in my mind, these descriptions are meant to be somewhat humorous. Here we have a lawyer, the narrator, who is paying two copyists to do the work of basically one man as each take turns at being entirely unproductive for half of the day. In our fast paced society, we would not put up with this. Indeed, we would fly into a fit of fuming and fiery fury and kick those insolent persons out the door. However, I find that the narrator’s approach to these two individuals is how we must approach the situation.
What I mean by this is that oftentimes when a situation becomes awkward or embarrassing for us, or perhaps a situation happens where we find ourselves quite annoyed by another human, it is sometimes extremely helpful for us to take a second, reflect, gain perspective (the most important part), and begin to endeavor on writing a short snippet of what just occurred in third- or first-person narrative giving all the persons involved in the said scenario outlandish and unrealistic traits which exaggerate that which was embarrassing or obnoxious. This idea was formulated into my philosophy of life shortly after I read the Pickwick Papers, and, though it does not always help, I find it to be incredibly beneficial when situations do not go as planned. In a sense, we are making the best out of a situation that we certainly could not control by viewing it from another’s perspective, one who may not be as emotionally tied to what occurred.
Though I would love to include a real-life example here and then write about it in a narrative, I believe this post is long enough. I will, however, come up with something perhaps for my next blog barring I do not go through the weekend without an awkward situation.