Bartleby, the Scrivener & the Lady with the Dog

1394 words 6 pages
A number of the stories studied this semester explore the conflict between social restraint and inner compulsion. Discuss at least two of the stories in the light of this.

Through an exploration of the boundaries between social constraint and inner compulsion, Melville and Chekov reveal the restrictions forced upon one’s personal desires as they struggle to find a balance between conflicting values and social norms. Anna and Gurov in ‘The Lady with the Dog’ are restrained by the socially expected conventions in their marriages, inhibiting their ability to express their inner compulsion of desire. Chekov reveals their yearning to escape their individual lives as they cope with personal troubles by distancing themselves from marriage
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Unlike Anna and Gurov, Bartleby was not defined by his social restrictions, but used them to express his message of a world of preference. As a copyist, Bartleby does not exercise his duties and uses the building as his home, utilising all aspects of the narrator’s passive nature, revealing that despite society’s attempts to place constraint upon him he escapes these boundaries in order to live a life of preference. The image of Bartleby behind his cubicle, “which might entirely isolate Bartleby from (the narrators) sight” (Melville 1998, p. 197), creates a symbol of the restrictions binding him, holding both him and his secrets behind it. This segregation illustrates this conflict between social constraint and inner compulsion as the narrator attempts to trap Bartleby’s compulsive nature behind a cubicle, concealing his inner desires where he cannot defy these societal boundaries.

Throughout Anna and Gurov’s relationship this conflict is further shown as their desire is conflicted with the boundaries of social restraint within their marriages. Their expressions of desire are portrayed through their elongated silences as they are soundless in their relationship, unwilling to answer the lingering question surrounding their union. As Anna collapses into a fit of melancholy, Gurov leads into a “half an hour of silence” (Chekhov 1998, p. 367), a period showing the struggle between his desires and the social constraints of marriage as he questions the