Bartleby The Scrivener Literature Review Example
Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street is a story written by Herman Melville. The whole story is mainly dedicated to the character of Bartleby who differs from all the other characters and is considered to be an anti-hero of the Melville’s story. The main themes of the story are isolation and refusal which are mainly reflected through the character of Bartleby and his desire to isolate and alienate himself from the rest of the world. At first glance the character never acts as a rebel but in his passive resistance as well as the reluctance to obey social norms it is clear that he stands in a sharp contrast to the society he lives in. It is also possible to say that being one of the main characters Bartleby is the antagonist of the story who is opposed to the narrator of the story. He antagonizes his employer, his co-workers and the society in general. Therefore, considering the Melville’s work, the main questions that may be raised are the following: Who is Bartleby? What does he antagonize? Why is he considered to be the main anti-hero of the story?
But everything changed when the narrator asked Bartleby to examine some papers for him. Thus, Bartleby’s answer was the following: “I would prefer not to” (Melville 7). The attorney was so shocked by such an answer that he couldn’t say a word and didn’t know how to react on it. There was no anger or impatience in Bartleby’s voice so that is why he didn’t take any actions for the moment. Moreover, he even asked the advice from his other employees who called Bartleby luny and said that it would be a right decision to dismiss him. Bartleby, in his turn continued to refuse any additional tasks he was given and in fact he refused to work at all. Thus, he spent all the time motionless and staring at the window. Moreover, when the narrator tried to dismiss him he simply refused to go and leave the office. His behavior clearly shows that Bartleby acted as an anti-hero who rejected the norms of the society he lived in. At the same time he didn’t do any actions. He didn’t try to change anything in the world. He didn’t try to change even his own position in it. Bartleby simply remained passive. Thus, the narrator mentioned that “Nothing so aggravates an earnest person as a passive resistance” (Melville 11). It seems that with these words the narrator claims that something is better than nothing. It would be better if Bartleby took at least some action and expressed his standpoint or disagreement with the existing situation. But he preferred to stay passive. That is why it is possible to call Bartleby anti-hero of the story.
It should be also noted that Bartleby acts as the antagonist of the story. Thus, he antagonizes the narrator of the story, the society in which he lives and finally the whole world. At first, he disagrees to accomplish all kind of tasks his employer gives to him. He never changes his phrase and always answers “I would prefer not to” (Melville 7). He never argues or explains his decision and it is really hard to understand what he is really thinking about. Therefore, the narrator made several attempts to talk with him openly. He asked Bartleby why he didn’t want to do this or that task, what worried him, what he really wanted to do in his life. It is clear that he was quite sympathetic to Bartleby, even when he learned that Bartleby used his office as a house which, in fact, frightened him to some extent. At this rate he said the following: “My first emotions had been those of pure melancholy and sincerest pity; but just in proportion as the forlornness of Bartleby grew and grew to my imagination, did that same melancholy merge into fear, that pity into repulsion” (Melville 17). After this episode the attorney finally decides to dismiss Bartleby. Although he liked this man to a certain extent and felt pity for him he knew that other people would never understand what a person like Bartleby who refuses to work and even to talk with people could do in his office. But Bartleby again surprised the narrator and antagonized his decision. He just rejected to leave the office. He simply stayed there days and nights looking at the window. The situation reached its absurd and the narrator had to change his office in order to get rid of his scrivener. But Bartleby didn’t stop and refused to leave the office even when the police came. That is how he appeared in prison where he also expressed his alienation and refused to talk to anyone. Moreover, he rejected to have his meals and in such a way starved to death. Therefore, it is possible to say that Bartleby antagonized the whole society and expressed his alienation to it. Thus, at first he refused to accomplish some tasks that were given to him, and then he refused to work and leave his office. Bartleby refused to eat and talk and finally he refused to leave at all. It is true that he chose rather strange methods in order to express his disagreement with the way people work and live but nevertheless he remained firm in all his decisions.
A special attention should be given to the society in which Bartleby lived and which in fact produced this anti-hero. It seems that Melville criticizes the society in which he places his main character. Thus, Melville describes people who are only preoccupied with their work. They don’t communicate with each other and leave behind their walls. For example, in Bartleby the Scrivener the characters never communicate anywhere outside their offices. The readers don’t even get to know the names of the people who worked at the attorney’s office. Thus, these people call each other only by their nicknames, such as Turkey or Nippers. The name of the narrator is not mentioned throughout the story as well. The workers never communicate outside their workplace; they never speak to each other about their interests or hobbies. It is unclear if they have families as they never mention them as well. It is also remarkable that their offices are separated by walls and it definitely does not contribute to open communication. People are simply isolated from each other. Thus, the narrator criticizes Wall Street saying that “Wall-street is deserted as Petra; and every night of every day it is emptiness” (Melville 15). With these words he claims that despite being industrious center full of offices with its workers Wall Street represented loneliness and nothing else behind it. Therefore, it is quite obvious that Melville through his work described the setting, attorney’s office to be particular, in which many people can work and spend time together but at the same time still feel lonely. Bartleby serves as a great example of loneliness and alienation. He refuses to be a part of the society which does not value people as well as their characters. He refuses to implement his social role and prefers isolation instead.
It is also possible to say that the themes of isolation and rejection play the first role in the story. Indeed, both themes are interconnected. Thus, Bartleby himself chooses rejection. He doesn’t want to live in such a society where people are treated only as working machines, he antagonizes the society’s norms, values and principles. Bartleby doesn’t want to be the part of the society in which he lives and tries to separate himself from it. He starts to live in his own world and it is impossible to guess what his thoughts are about. He intentionally chooses the pass of alienation and loneliness. Thus, when the narrator found out Bartleby’s home which was in fact his office he thought: “What miserable friendlessness and loneliness are here revealed!” (Melville 15). And it is truly hard to find other words to describe a person who choses office as his home and who never leaves it. Moreover the attorney noticed that Bartleby never talked to anyone unless he had to answer to someone’s question and in fact he was always by himself. He was truly a lonely soul. A silent man.
However, there is another explanation of Bartleby’s alienation and loneliness. Thus, after his death the narrator of the story heard that the man was working as a subordinate clerk in the Dead Letter Office. Therefore, when the attorney learnt such news he exclaimed: “Dead letters! does it not sound like dead men?” (Melville 35). The narrator claims that his previous work only contributed to Bartleby’s isolation. Bartleby who already suffered from loneliness as a result decided to separate himself from the rest of the world.
Melville, Herman. Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street.
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