Grace in the Arts: The Limits Of Graciousness A Study of Grace-Resisters in Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” and Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence -- By: James A. Townsend

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 02:1 (Spring 1989)
Article: Grace in the Arts: The Limits Of Graciousness A Study of Grace-Resisters in Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” and Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence
Author: James A. Townsend


Grace in the Arts:
The Limits Of Graciousness
A Study of Grace-Resisters in
Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” and Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence

James A. Townsend

Bible Editor
David C. Cook Publishing Company

I. Introduction

How far does the Hound of Heaven1 pursue? And how far should heaven’s earthly representatives pursue those who are recalcitrant to their expressions of graciousness? Is there a cutoff point to God’s grace? Does grace have a temporal terminus, or does it extend in any sense (as some Bible students might suggest God’s love does) even into the precincts of hell? If divine grace undergoes a cutoff point (due to persistent human rejection of it to the end of this earthly existence), then should human graciousness toward the recalcitrant ever experience a similar cutoff point within this life? In other words, practically speaking, is there a time when Christians should stop “cast[ing our] pearls before swine” (Matt 7:6)? Is it ever proper protocol for people of grace to “shake off the dust from [their] feet” (Matt 10:14) toward the ungracious in any final sense during this life?

This question of how far to extend practical grace to unresponding (or calloused) individuals is the tension point in two pieces of secular literature. Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” and Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence have as their chief characters two individuals who are very unlike (on the surface). However, at a deeper level Bartleby (Melville’s principal character) and Charles Strickland (Maugham’s central character) are very much alike—both are resisters of grace. Each in his own way defies another character in the story who reaches out to him with gracious overtures. It is the main purpose of this article to analyze and compare these two very different resisters

of human graciousness. Furthermore, we will ask: (1) Was it actually grace (or something less) being extended to each chief character? and (2) How far is it proper to extend grace to the recalcitrant rebel?

First, some comparison and brief biography of the two authors is appropriate. Herman Melville (1819–1891) is best remembered for his masterpiece Moby Dick. Critics of Melville are intrigued by his interplay with symbolical subjects and theological themes. Darrel Abel claimed that “the work of Herman Melville is the most crucial achievement in American literature.”2 Abel ...

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