Bartleby Essay, Research Paper
Society has set a standard in which a person must do something useful to be something good. So, what would the solution be when someone separates from society? Society s answer would either be to try and make that person do something or force that person to leave society permanently. The reason society feels this way is because society is unwilling to see any other view aside from their own, and when that view is challenged the only choice one has is to entirely reject society and be ready to face the consequences. In Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville, the narrator has a most unusual incident with an employee he hires as a law copyist. Bartleby started out being a very productive worker, but soon after he decided to quit everything and disconnect himself from the outside world. Through the use of an office setting, dialogue, and symbolism, the author is able to prove that detaching from society is dangerous, not only for that person but also on society. Unvoiced communication jeopardizes interpersonal relations to the degree of devaluing the individual and dehumanizing relationships.
The Wall Street office setting places Bartleby in a picture perfect environment where he can shut himself out of society. In the opening scene, the narrator hires Bartleby as a scrivener and makes him a workplace in the office.
I placed his desk close up to a small side window within three feet of the panes was a wall I procured a high green folding screen, which might entirely isolate Bartleby (889).
The narrator, like any other employer, is trying to give Bartleby some privacy, but the privacy actually minimizes Bartleby s interactions with others too much. Bartleby s window should give a form of escape, but in Bartleby s case the window forces him behind another wall, thus furthering his isolation. The narrator illustrates Bartleby s isolation, he would stand looking out, at his pale window behind the screen, upon the dead brick wall (895). As Bartleby looked out at the dead brick wall he saw his own solitude and severance from humankind. The office gives Bartleby a sense of security because it allows him to hide from the world he can t live in and the civilization he rejects. Gordon E. Bigelow clarifies the importance of the setting,
The Wall Street setting must also be seen here as presence.
Continuous symbolic notation of dead walls creates a dark entity which makes itself felt as a sinister, engulfing, deathlike force. Wall Street is a place, but it is also people, and we come here to one phase of coalescence. The place is permeated by particular facets of human character, which it expresses: acquisitiveness, selfish hedonism, callous exploitation of the weak, ruthless suppression of nonconformity (352).
The office constructs a place where death awaits. Wall Street is not just a place, but also a certain type of people. These people at Wall Street have very strict guidelines to which they follow, and a break from the norm is never wanted and will not be tolerated.
In society, a person can have one of two choices, either be what is considered normal or understand that not being normal will result in dismissal from society. Melville is also proposing that disconnecting from society will lead to the inability for that person to sustain life.
Throughout the story, the dialogue between the narrator and Bartleby show the dividing path Bartleby has chosen. Soon after Bartleby is hired, the narrator asks him to examine a paper for accuracy but he refuses to help.
Bartleby! Quick, I am waiting. soon he appeared standing at the entrance of his hermitage. What is wanted? said he, mildly We are going to examine them, there and I held towards him the fourth quadruplicate. I would prefer not to, he said, and gently disappeared behind the screen Why do you refuse? I would prefer not to (890).
By Bartleby not ever being rational the narrator is never able to accomplish communication with Bartleby. Bartleby loses any will and all reasons to keep living in this world, so he makes his own reasons by challenging what society considers normal. Winifred Morgan comments on the narrator s reaction to the irrational Bartleby,
The narrator tells the reader that to begin with, he refused to believe what he had heard Bartleby s continuing refusals, the narrator is immobilized. Bartleby s refusal so discombobulates the narrator s sense of fitness (3).
People do not expect to see a person refuse the way of life and when people do they have no idea of what to do. Thus the population of the world would deplete itself because if everyone refused to do something then nothing would ever get accomplished, and if nothing ever gets accomplished then civilization would cease to exist. At the end of the story, the narrator discovers Bartleby s death with a prison guard.
His dinner is ready. Won t he dine today either? Or does he live without dining? Lives without dining, said I, and closed the eyes (908).
As a result, of losing the battle against humanity for being an outcast, Bartleby commits suicide. Bartleby was unable to live in a world that abandoned him, so Bartleby took it upon himself to discard that world and remove himself from it for all eternity. The author shows the danger in disconnecting from society, because without humanity a person can be forced into death. Melville also shows the harshness of the world on an individual that goes against the standards set by culture.
At the end of the story, the symbolic Dead Letter Office represents Bartleby s inability to communicate with anyone. After Bartleby dies from starving himself, the narrator learned Bartleby had been previously employed at the Dead Letter Office in Washington.
Dead letters! does it not sound like dead men? Conceive a
man by nature and misfortune prove to a pallid hopelessness, can any other business seem more fitted to heighten it than that of continually handling these dead letters, and assorting them for the flames (908)?
The letters at the Dead Letter Office never reached their intended destination, they are communication that failed. The letters represent Bartleby in the way of not communicating with society. Society rejected Bartleby because he was unable to exchange a few words, so Bartleby rejected society by leaving the world. On errands of life, these letters speed to death (908). Like the letters unable to reach their destination, Bartleby s struggle is not being able to take refuge in society concludes the only way for him to be at rest was to die. Thomas R. Mitchell explains the symbolic Dead Letter Office,
The narrator s attempts to communicate with him and to offer him hope that sympathy and charity can provide seem as incapable of reaching Bartleby as are the Dead Letters of reaching their addressees And in telling Bartlebys story, he continues the process If Bartleby is a Dead Letter, then the narrator is its preserver, not its destroyer, and we, the readers of this tale, are its recipients. In us the Dead Letter that Bartleby seems to be is dead no longer (6).
The reason the narrator even tells the reader about Bartleby s previous job is to try and stop what happened to the Dead Letters happen to Bartleby. The narrator does not want the world to go on and forget Bartleby, so in an effort to defend Bartleby the narrator tells the reader about the Dead Letter Office. Melville exemplifies no one should go unforgotten. Civilization was built around all different types of people and to which none were perfect.
When did standards come about into society? Why does any culture need standards? How do standards really help any civilization? Bartleby, the Scrivener not only depicts a tragic story of a man s failure in society, but also shows the consequences from going against the standard of normality. Bartleby s decision to quit everything in his life had a detrimental effect on his own existence. Bartleby lost his will to live because the world refused to accept him for the way he was. Bartleby chose to handle the problem by giving in to society with his life. Communication is an essential part in keeping stable relationships within the social order. Standards are set in society because through the years humanity has learned from mistakes, so in order from making the same mistake twice, society has come up with these standards to which people should follow.