One of the most strikingly confusing details of Herman Melville’s “Bartleby” is the repetitive use of the specific form of his refusals; he “prefers” not to comply with his employer’s demands. Bartleby never argues for his convictions, rather he refuses on the grounds of his preference. Such a vast repetition, along with its inherent perplexity, leads me to believe that the actual wording is symbolic in nature.
When someone is asked for his/her preferences, the question is directed to the individual’s inner motives and desires. Any question addressed as a preference question, usually grants the consideration of the innermost inclinations. The lawyer never asked Bartleby whether he would like to comply or not, yet the latter keeps answering with the same term of preference; a choice of word that comes to show that Bartleby does not regard the demands laid upon him as intrinsically valid, he rather questions them in light of his inclinations and answers accordingly.
The lawyer, on the other hand, does view his demands as intrinsically valid. The lawyer represents society with all its requirements and demands. Society expects us to work for our living under the terms and conditions that it sets, but what if we choose not to? * The lawyer does not make much of Bartleby’s choice of words, he does not recognize the real problem; namely, Bartleby is neither interested, nor subjected to the rules of society
Bartleby’s state is further clarified by the symbolic use of the walls and the dead letter office described in the epilogue. First, throughout the story he is depicted time and again as facing and staring at a wall. Staring at a wall can mean …
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As much as we all strive to “see the full half of the glass,” for some people the half is either empty, or not full enough. While those of us that have an incentive for life cannot understand how it can elude anyone else (in the way the Lawyer could not understand Bartleby), each reason to get out of bed every morning is unique and personal. Apparently not everyone has a reason, and the mere loss of a reason is a short step away from the loss of life.
* The assumption made by the lawyer, and for that matter, by society, that its values and demands are intrinsically a priori valid, are a matter for another interesting research, yet it diverges too much from our point.
Melville, Herman. “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street.” 1853. Bartleby.com. 30 Oct. 2000. http://www.bartleby.com/129/.
Comparing Poor Man’s Pudding, Bartleby, Minister’s Black Veil, or Masque of the Red Death
Lack of Epiphany in Poor Man’s Pudding, Bartleby, Minister’s Black Veil, or Masque of the Red Death
In the Melville stories, “Poor Man’s Pudding and Rich Man’s Crumbs” and “Bartleby, the Scrivener”, the narrators go through what appear to be life-changing experiences. Hawthorne offers a similar outline in “The Minister’s Black Veil” as does Poe in “Masque of the Red Death”. Yet, at the conclusion of each of these stories, there is no evidence to suggest that the narrator is affected by the differences (and perhaps similarities) of their lives and those less fortunate.
In “Poor Man’s Pudding and Rich Man’s Crumbs” The narrator has the opportunity to absorb, as much as an “outsider” can, the heartache and trials of the lower class. While he cannot deny the experience of being in the Coulters home as thought provoking– that appears to be all it is for him. “But the instinct of the poor is wiser than we think”. He does not totally align himself with the upper class in the second part of the story but he will not refuse the benefits and privileges of wealth. He may be inwardly affected by the gluttony and callousness of the rich and the sympathetic circumstances of the poor, but any inward conversion is not exemplified in his outward behavior. ..Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed”.Here, I believe, the reader is the one who is changed by the narrator’s experiences and the lack of change on the part of the narrator is upsetting to the reader. The reader is able to go with the narrator through both situations, but unlike the narrator, the reader is able to sympathize with th…
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…ected by the differences (and perhaps similarities) of their lives and those less fortunate. They stand at the crossroad that would define their character and their future course of action. Some choose ambivalence, some choose to see and turn away, others may even convince themselves that they are actually better than they used to be. But without acting on any internal change these people have failed to convince the reader that they have been redeemed. Their inability or unwillingness to extend themselves to the cause of brotherhood and human kindness is their testament. The reader has no pity for these men, but unlike them the reader can internalize the lessons of their experiences and effect change in their own lives. Their failure to act is their greatest folly, but the reader can rise above these characters, recognizing their failure and take a different path.