Conflicts in Bartleby, The Birth-Mark and Sonny’s Blues

Bartleby presents a person vs. person conflict, where the titular character stands in opposition to other employees and society at large. One’s value depends on the person’s productivity, and Bartleby gradually stops performing the tasks required of his position because he “would prefer not to”. His perseverance initially causes the narrator’s sympathy, but it eventually becomes an annoyance, as the original fascination with Bartleby’s diligence is replaced with a new perception of him as a freeloader.

However, the employer’s opinion is still more sympathetic than that of other employees, who consider their colleague’s unproductiveness “luny” and “unjust”. While trying to resolve the issue, the narrator is more concerned with the business’s reputation than what caused Bartleby to behave in that way, although he makes several guesses. His subsequent actions to remove the man lead to Bartleby’s total alienation and death, still misunderstood by the surroundings. It is too late to save Bartleby, as his demise is determined by his previous occupation and the inability to adapt to the living society.

The Birth-Mark exemplifies a person vs. nature conflict, as the mark in question represents the natural force. The human side is Aylmer, who expresses fascination towards Nature and wishes to uncover its secrets, and Georgiana, a victim with flawed beauty. The husband is confident about erasing “the hand,” as he devoted his life to solving natural secrets, some of which his wife witnesses.

However, upon reading Aylmer’s journal, it becomes obvious to her that his pebble-like efforts cannot compare to “the higher nature”. Regardless, she wants to release herself from Nature’s grasp and is willing to pay the price. The experiment is seemingly successful, but the cost is Georgiana’s life, as the birthmark is the “bond” that keeps her “angelic spirit”. The moral is, perhaps, not to fiddle with nature and content oneself with the role of its child.

Sonny’s Blues has two notable interpersonal conflicts, one inside the narrator and the other affecting his brother, Sonny. The former struggles with his role as an older brother, being unable to fulfill the promise given to his late mother and neglecting his sibling. Meanwhile, Sonny has a dream of becoming a jazz musician, but it is a thorny path, as he feels restrained by the narrator and his in-laws. Little Grace’s death reunites the siblings, and Sonny’s voice is eventually heard. The catharsis allows both brothers to overcome their internal struggles: the narrator finally manages to perform his brotherly role properly, and Sonny acts according to his dream. Thus, they successfully resolve the conflicts by cooperating with each other.

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