Control is a word that can mean a variety of things. Control can mean having power and having command over something. It can mean restraint against outside forces, as well as manipulating other forces or persons. Control can be a limitation or influence over certain things or rule over certain people. Control is something that most people like to have over their own lives, no matter what the definition or interpretation of control might be. William Faulkner?s ?Barn Burning? and Herman Melville?s ?Bartleby, the Scrivener? are two short stories that have control as a central issue, but while ?Barn Burning? presents control from a standpoint of striking fear into others, ?Bartleby, the Scrivener? shows control trying to be gained through reasoning and influence over people.
Abner Snopes a character in ?Barn Burning.? Abner is a hard man whose actions and personality are repeatedly described as making him a ?cold? man. Abner lives life by his own rules, and he tends to what matters to him. Abner has an obsession with fire, particularly with burning the barns of the people whom he crosses. After he commits his arson, he is driven out of town, only to have it happen in his family?s next residence and they are off to find a new place to live.
Abner controls both his family and others with fear and intimidation. When he hits his son Sartoris, Abner accuses him of wanting to tell the justice of the peace that he had burned the barn down. He further intimidates his son by telling him ?You?ve got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain?t going to have any blood to stick to you (484). By doing using these tactics of power and brute force along with fear, he is able to control his son to make him do exactly what he wants Sartoris to do.
His actions are similar when he deals with Major de Spain?s possessions and servants. Abner rides up to the elegant home and steps in fresh horse manure. When the old black servant tells him to wipe his feet before his enters the house, Abner throws a racial slur at him and disregards the servant?s command. He then proceeds to spread the dung all over a white carpet in the house. Upon his exit, he scrapes what is left on his boot on the edge of the house?s steps. This scene shows once again how his cold appearance strikes fear into the servants and he has control over them, because they did not attempt to physically stop him from ruining the fine carpet.
Abner?s control over his family is shown again when he decides to burn the barn of Major de Spain. His physical control and prowess is shown when his wife tries to stop him and pleads with him not to do it, he just pushed her violently into a wall. His control is shown to be in effect even after his presumed death. Even after Sartoris had stopped his father from burning the barn and his father was killed by the gunshots, he thinks his father was a brave and honorable man. This shows that he had manipulated his family until they believed that he was right in his despicable actions.
In ?Bartleby, the Scrivener,? Herman Melville depicts control to be more of psychological issue in contrast to the intimidation and fear directed by Abner Snopes in ?Barn Burning.? The narrator of the story is an elderly lawyer who likes his life to be in order and thinks he has control of his life. While he is a lawyer, he doesn?t pursue criminal cases or the limelight that is often associated with his profession. Instead, the narrator prefers to immerse himself in legal documents such as deeds and wills, which are far less stressful and complicated matters.
The narrator hires Bartleby, who starts out as a very good worker who gorges himself in the work that is laid before him. Soon the narrator realizes that Bartleby is not all he had seemed to be. Bartleby started to refuse to do some work that was assigned to him by his employer, but saying simply ?I would prefer not to.? This incenses the narrator, who tries to control Bartleby to no avail.
The narrator uses reason as his main method of trying to control and tame the already mellow and indifferent Bartleby. Many times he reminds Bartleby of his job description and duties as a scrivener and copyist. Other times he tries to use the opinions of his other workers to try and influence Bartleby to be sensible, but this too is done in vain and does not help the narrator in his attempt to control Bartleby and have his employee act in the manner he wants.
Bartleby finally stops working altogether, and the narrator rationally informs Bartleby that he must leave in six days. Once again, he cannot attempt to control Bartleby in any way, for he remained in the office as a permanent fixture. He tries to use logic against Bartleby by saying ?What earthly right do you have to stay here? Do you pay any rent? Do you pay my taxes? Or is this property yours? (129).? The unwavering Bartleby still does not respond.
While the narrator in ?Bartleby, the Scrivener? uses practical methods to try to gain the control he desires, he does not succeed. Abner Snopes used a much different and atrocious method of intimidation and striking fear into his family and the ones he encountered, but he accomplished his goal nonetheless. This shows that in some cases to gain the control that is one may desire, extreme and brutal measures may have to be taken. The actual success of the two individuals is not the interest, but that the theme of control was attempted to be resolved in two entirely different manners.