Literary Essay, Research Paper
An amazing curiosity had developed while reading Melville’s Bartleby. After completing the work, I was left in awe. Who was this man and what did his story signify? Melville makes the reader thirsty for the acquaintance of Bartleby and leaves him unquenched. Only through comparisons to critiques and theories was I able to gratify my peculiar inquiries of Bartleby. I strongly believe that Melville envisioned the conditions in a capitalistic society, and expresses them to the reader through his creation of “Bartleby”, a product of the environment. Through the character of Bartleby, Melville illustrates the future mechanization and dehumanization of many jobs in the marketplace. Efficiency in the industry was the goal to be achieved by employers. Similar to the concept of the Industrial Revolution as a mechanical age, the job of a scrivener itself is somewhat mechanical. Melville uses many methods to display this process of removal of humanity from the workplace. The author supports his anticipation on a capitalistic society through his descriptive scenery, details of the laboring, personalities of characters and their actions in the workplace, and ideally through Bartleby’s preferences “not to” act in the workplace. The story takes place during the Industrial Revolution in the 1850’s, a time when New York witnessed political turmoil. There was discourse between New York workers and their employees. Efforts were made by laboring workers to gain economic and political power. Melville, aware of the conditions that were taking place, incorporates them into “Bartleby”. Bartleby along with other characters are alienated workers who struggle to live in a capitalistic society during the times of Industrialism. Turkey, Nippers and Ginger Nut each deal with their struggle in different ways. Bartleby deals with his in a most peculiar way. Nevertheless like Turkey, Nippers, and Ginger Nut he too must deal with his circumstances. His method led him to removing himself from society. In addition to the external environmental conditions depicted in the story, additional mental pictures were illustrated for the reader through the internal environment. Take for example the office, which appeared dehumanizing and industriousness. The bragging lawyer states, ” My chambers were up stairs, at No.______ Wall Street. At one end, they looked upon the white wall of the interior of a spacious skylight shaft, penetrating the building from top to bottom [My window commanded an unobstructed view of a lofty brick wall, black by age and everlasting shade; which was required no spy glass to bring out its lurking beauties, but, for the benefit of all near-sighted spectators, was pushed up within ten feet of my window panes. "] The passage demonstrates the lawyers proud view of his office on Wall Street, that may be contrary to what others may believe, as he expresses in his statement. ” This view might have been considered rather tame than other wise, deficient in what landscape painters call “life’.” It is in fact while the lawyer may find his office to be suitable, for the workers it is a place blocked by walls. It is indeed a story of WALLStreet. There is a symbolic meaning in these physical barriers: the tall brick structures that surround the law office, the folding glass doors, the portable screens that divide it internally, and lastly the prison walls. One point is that these walls suggest that there are in fact barriers between the lawyer and his scriveners. A barrier lies not only between him and his scriveners but also within him from himself. The lawyer fails to understand the consequences of his actions. Throughout the story the lawyer is the narrator yet he does not reflect on what he is observing and stating. For example, he proceeds by giving the reader a detailed description of each scrivener’s idiosyncrasies yet not once does he attribute those behaviors as result of his actions. The walls demonstrate the barriers of the society in the workplace and a larger society; the barriers of job advancement that lock the copyists into their positions as poorly paid workers in dehumanizing environment. Turkey remains a copyist still in his old age. He realizes there is no other future for him. Men had difficult times finding work let alone older men. Employers would prefer to have young, swift, workers. The lawyer too addresses this issue in “Bartleby” when he tries to let Turkey go by indicating that Turkeys abilities are no longer up to par. He supports his notion with his statement “But the blots, Turkey”. This is and example of the struggle aging workers must face in a capitalistic society. Turkey aware of his future, nothing more than that of a copyist employed by the narrator under poor working conditions, resorts to his daily drinking to mask his discontent. Nippers, a somewhat younger wanna-be lawyer, is described as the victim of “diseased ambition that was evinced by a certain impatience of the duties of a mere copyist. Clearly the lawyer is indicating that Nippers aspiration to become something more than a scrivener is preposterous and unhealthy. Why aspire to be something you can not? It will only do you harm. Nipper’s attempts to break free and overcome the barriers of job advancement by taking on side jobs such as the original drawing up of legal documents. His fits of rage demonstrate the frustration he endures in his attempts to break free from his work as a scrivener.
Bartleby too faces barriers and dehumanization. He was described as running of a “day and night line, copying by sun-light and by candle-light” and noting that the proprietor” should have been quite delighted with his application, had he been cheerfully industrious. But he wrote on silently, palely, mechanically.” This passage shows what effects a dehumanizing occupation can have. Bartleby’s conditions were so devastating that his form of dealing with the situation was to simply withdrawal from society. Simply prefer not to do anything. The other scriveners became frustrated and Bartleby’s refused to work. Both behaviors were merely different ways of responding to the impersonal, unequal, and dehumanizing conditions. The story is primarily of “Bartleby” since it is he who causes the lawyer to somewhat reflecting upon himself. While the other scriveners are merely viewed as a bit deranged due to their behavior, Bartleby has touched the lawyer. At one point the lawyer began to wonder why it was Bartleby preferred not to. He began to explore and found that maybe the poor candlelight caused Bartleby not too sea. The lawyer begins observing Bartleby’s behavior out of concern. He even offers Bartleby money and invites him into his home. By this time all the conditions; the cubicle wall separation, the poor wages, the poor lighting, no scenery, a tedious mechanical job which requires no thought or self fulfillment had already taken their toll and it was now too late. The social hierarchical divisions that separated social classes were yet another barrier that made conditions difficult for the workers. From the very beginning, prior to the introduction of Bartleby, as the lawyer is describing himself, John Jacob Astor, the scriveners, and Ginger Nut he clearly sets class distinctions. Himself as the upper middle class worker, Mr. Astor the upper class, and the three scriveners and Ginger Nut as the mere, low working class. The workers are the servants of the boss. In the lawyer’s eyes his workers are below him, they are flawed, yet he is in wonderment by these observations. He is insensitive the frustrations of his employees.He would believe that under no circumstances is he at fault for Turkeys ” Inflamed, flurried, flighty reckless of activity” or his inability to buy himself a decent coat. In his description of Nippers, he states he has failings and annoyances. The lawyer describes his inability to adapt to his table, he states “Or, if he wanted anything, it was to be rid of a scrivener’s table altogether”. He looks at this action as an annoyance rather than a sign that maybe the lawyer should buy him a new table. Likewise in his relations with Bartleby, it is as if he has no idea why Bartleby acts in such an absurd manner. Searching for a reason, since it could never be his own fault, in the end he presents us with the reason of the Dead Letter Office. The story of Bartleby shows the reader the consequences of working in a capitalistic society under the dehumanizing conditions and what it can convey. This is easily shown in Bartleby’s response to all requests as, “I would prefer not to.” Also the erratic nature of Turkey and Nippers whose” fits relieved each other like guards.” This shows that working as a law copyist provides a ground for a rather different attitude and outlook of life. The effects of a dehumanizing profession and the barriers those workers during the times of Bartleby endured are well portrayed. Melville is making a statement about humanity and a capitalistic society. The story of Bartleby leaves the reader with this question, is gain of efficiency and industry worth the loss of humanity? Only the lawyer would know as he leaves us with his statement of “Ah Bartleby! Ah Humanity! “