Characterization In Poe, Hawthorne, And Melville
What makes a story different from a tale lies in the author’s choice of characterization. When we have little physical detail about the character as is Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” and Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” the story becomes more of a tale. In a tale, it is possible to remove almost all of the physical detail about the character and still achieve the same effect. If you remove the known detail, what little there is, in “Young Goodman Brown” it might have the same effect as, “A man walked into the woods…..” This however cannot be achieved in Herman Melville’s “Bartleby The Scribner”. If you remove the detail about the life of the narrator then you remove the essence of the story in itself.
In “Bartleby The Scribner”, we are given enough detail about the characters that we are able to answer why a character thinks a certain way. It is only through the details about the narrator’s business and the people that work for him that we can understand why Bartleby’s behavior is so perplexing. The details show how ordinary, or plain the narrator’s life is until Bartleby arrives and seems to change everything. The characters almost become real. In “The Cask of Amontillado” we cannot attempt to understand why Montresor seeks revenge so badly, we are just told that he does. If the reader were given more insight into the relationship between Fortunato and Montresor then we might be able to understand why he seeks revenge. Any physical detail given to us only serves what Poe calls “the single effect”. We are told that Fortunato is wearing a jester’s hat to point out that he is a fool, adding to the humiliation to follow. The fact that he is wearing the hat, however, does not give the reader any insight to his psychology. Thus the characters become abstractions that exist only in our minds. They do not have real life counterparts.
By placing more emphasis on plot than characterization, Poe and Hawthorne were able to create a tale in which the characters only exist in the readers mind and the story becomes more of a tale. However, Melville was able to create characters that seem to escape the readers mind and the plot is moved forward through examination of these characters.