The Eccentricities of Bartleby and Mr. Hooper—A Comparative Essay on the Male Protagonist of Herman Melville’s Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story Of Wall-Street and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil
Both protagonists in Herman Melville’s Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story Of Wall-Street and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil are undeniably alike when it comes to their attitude: how they relate to other people and how they take on the more somber and profound aspects of life. Hawthorne’s Mr. Hooper and Melville’s Bartleby have both personalities of eccentricity that provides them with an aura of mystery. Mr. Hooper seems more than efficient during the start of the story that he even has a “reputation of being a good preacher” (Hawthorne 4), and this gives him an identity of being well-loved and well-appreciated. People can therefore compare his personality before and after he started wearing the black veil. Like Mr. Hooper, Bartleby is a capable person and can be depended on, although by the middle of the story, he seems to exude an air of idiocy. However, at the start of the story, the narrator, in the personality of The Lawyer, thinks highly of him, and he considers Bartleby a favorite. In this context, both characters are alike in a way that Mr. Hooper is a fine preacher, loved by all and Bartleby is a fine scrivener, loved by the Lawyer. However, their initial personalities change as Mr. Hooper and Bartleby discover something more which is not explicitly explained and made visible to the readers: Mr. Hooper starts wearing a black veil, and Bartleby starts to be uninvolved with the practice of the office. These two situations give the stories the conflict of the characters which determines their personalities as being eccentric. This determines their similarities in the sense that they are eccentric and they are unaffected by the people’s perception of their eccentricity. This may be linked to the knowledge that both characters have discovered much more important things which are more spiritual in nature than any material and/or physical aspect of things. This can be explained by the vague and abstract attitude of the two characters that makes them either eerie or insightful. Mr. Hooper’s conversation with his wife and the narrative style of the story reveal that there is something much more to the existence and insistence of the black veil. Additionally, Bartleby’s obvious reluctance to take any orders, do anything, and move out of the office’s building means something much more than a mere regard for disobedience and insubordination.
Another aspect of looking at things is when the characters had their moment of change—the black veil gives Mr. Hooper an air of melancholic foreboding that no one dares to approach him; he also has his obvious refusal to explain why he was wearing the black veil in the first place. This may perhaps mean that he would like to separate himself from other people and regard them to be either beneath his class or above his class. However, the latter is truer compared to the former as Mr. Hooper seems to be blackened with a sin that he cannot even show his face. The narrator describes a situation wherein he is so saddened and appalled by the fact that he is wearing the black veil yet he still chooses to wear it despite the fact that it costs such strain to his relationships. This can also be likened to Melville’s character, Bartleby, as he starts daydreaming and passes the time staring out the window that he eventually becomes an anti-social and refuses to speak to anyone. The two characters’ obvious efforts to distance themselves from the people around them and the realities of society may be interpreted as one thing—that is Mr. Hooper and Bartleby aim to fully forego the ideas of the material world, and they would have to have more time in thinking profound thoughts that may lead to unanswered questions about life. What these questions may be or if this is even the case is not certain; what is certain is the fact that they are in search of something more than what is happening to them at the present. The end to this search may or may not be sudden, but the truth remains that they want to achieve something much higher than themselves. This is more true to Mr. Hooper as he is a preacher of the Faith. Bartleby, on the other hand, may not be blatantly offering any spiritual words of wisdom, but his regard to things that are eccentric which is not explained in the story may mean that he is more than the scrivener that he is. Spirituality in this sense does not mean making them special and holy to the point of considering them as saints. It just means that they have a better appreciation of the physical dimension is offering—that while death exists, there is something more beyond it. In fact, that is the one thing which wholly and greatly links and ties the two characters together—Death. When the moment of their change came, it can be deduced that they were both thinking of Death. Mr. Hooper’s wearing of the black veil may be the effect of his realization that he must be absolved from the sins he had committed. In the same way, because Bartleby used to be “a subordinate clerk in the Dead Letter Office at Washington” (Melville, par. 249), he may have been subjected to a period or time when he had the opportunity to mull over the aspects of the living and being alive which made him think about the things he experienced. Such aspects and situations in a person’s life wherein he or she is presented with the opportunity to contemplate on the life (or the lack of it) that he or she lived motivate a person to find the reason or purpose of his or her life. In both cases of Mr. Hooper and Bartleby—they were wary that there is something more important than life—more than how they lived the life they were given, is the knowledge of how they leave that life and be prepared for the next one.
In conclusion, the main similarity of Mr. Hooper and Bartleby is the fact that the characters both changed so they can experience things on a deeper level. Mr. Hooper’s preaching became much more ever since he wore the black veil while Bartleby ponders about things quietly. Though they have been judged as eccentric and perhaps, even insane by the people around them, what matters most to the characters is they are aware and they know why they are behaving in such a manner—perhaps, it is because they are both searching for life or something relatively close to it.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Minister’s Black Veil.” Title of Book. State: Publisher, Year.
Melville, Herman. “Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street.” Title of Book. State: Publisher, Year. Page Numbers