Comparing Bartleby And The Hunger Artist

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Alienation- the state of being isolated from a group or category that one should be a part of- exists in three forms; man’s alienation from man, man’s alienation from fellow men, and man’s alienation from the world itself. These three classes of alienation are fluid phases of the same process that exists to some extent within every member of society. The intriguing and complex nature of alienation has sparked the interest of many philosophers, artists, and authors around the world, resulting in works of art and literature that attempt to give insight into living life alone. Authors Herman Melville and Frank Kafka both reveal the struggles of functioning set apart from society through the protagonists in their respective short stories; Bartleby…show more content…
Human nature is inherently inclined to turn away from that which they do not understand, whether the difference is physical or mental, and both Bartleby and The Hunger Artist can be examined to reveal the actions of society as an individual is separated from it. In both short stories the protagonist expresses a lack of interest in the mundane everyday tasks that are viewed as acceptable in the eyes of the world. In the case of Bartleby, he expresses no desire to work and provide for himself, even when threatened with firing by his boss, whereas the hunger artist reveals at the end of the short story that he has no interest in food. The societies in which Bartleby and the hunger artist live are unable to comprehend the suffering that seems to bring so much contentment, bringing inevitable isolation with inability to understand. Bartleby’s actions and living conditions which should have prompted an investigation of his mental health instead resulted in Bartleby’s complete shunning not only from the office, but also from the entire building; making the lawyer’s later attempts to care for Bartleby futile. Conversely, the hunger artist’s alienation forms as a result of the society marketing his lack of interest in food in order to make money. His oddity brings him fame and fortune, which he has…show more content…
Isolation has been analyzed both as a defense mechanism and as a symptom, and physiologists have gone to great lengths to determine the difference between true and creative loneliness and the affect that isolation has on mental disorders (Lowenthal 55). In the case of Bartleby, his isolation catalyzed his rapid disintegration from a quiet, somewhat odd character to completely disturbed, whereas the hunger artist chose to be set apart from society. The views of people who present themselves to society outside of the “normal” mold is by far unhealthy, with society treating them as objects to avoid and fear. The typical treatment for such people is to place them out of sight and out of mind to be cared for by their families, however; with the growing trend of social isolation this is no longer a viable option (Burtner). As mass alienation continues to grow, with a 2006 study showing that one in four people having no one to discuss personal matters with, the number of premature deaths due to isolation is increasing as well (Wharton). The monetarily minded society that exists today chooses to place isolated members on display for gain, or brush them forgotten to the outskirts of the
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