Compare and contrast a theme in Hawthorne's "The Birthmark" and Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener, A Tale of Wall Street."

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One theme shared by "The Birthmark" by Nathaniel Hawthorne and "Bartleby the Scrivener, A Tale of Wall Street" by Herman Melville is the thematic idea of freedom and dominance. While both stories address the theme, they approach it in differing manners.

In Hawthorne's, the question of domimance versus freedom centers symbolically on the conflict between science and nature. Science in Hawthorne's era was seen as the means by which humankind could finally dominate nature and tame its destructive power of disease and deformity. Alymer's quest to so dominate by removing Georgiana's birthmark lead to her death; therefore science has failed in its dominance of nature, as nature's course--death--wins out in the end.

In Melville's, the question of dominance versus freedom centers symbolically on the conflict of one individual (or group) with another. Melville explores the ideas of what constitutes an individual's freedom. Bartleby hasan idea of personal freedom that violates the socially acceptable ideas of freedom (it is to the lawyer's credit that Bartleby believes he is safe to exercise his idea of freedom). In the end, beacuse the lawyer feels compelled to assert society's idea of a proper display of freedom, Bartleby's personal freedom is dominated and he contributes to his own death.

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