September 12, 2003

"Bartleby the Scrivener"

The following is my fourth response paper for ENGL 325. We were asked to read "Bartleby the Scrivener", select a character to describe, and discuss the role of ??? in the story.

The title character in Herman Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" is a despondent, dejected, and depressed man. He is hired by the narrator of the story as a scrivener because he has a calm appearance. It was the narrator's intent that this individual should balance out the other two personalities already in his employ: that of Turkey and Nippers. Those two actually do a sufficient job of complementing each other, all the while providing comic relief. Turkey is an elderly drunk who is industrious in the morning and inebriated by the afternoon. Nippers is a young man whose problem is not alcohol, but rather ambition accompanied with indigestion. The indigestion plagues him in the morning and abates in the afternoon. Therefore, when one man is not productive, the other one is. I mention this because it seems to me that Bartleby does in fact serve as a counterpoise, not to Turkey and Nippers, but to the narrator himself.

The description we are given of Bartleby is a striking one; in the beginning he is portrayed as already a dead man (he is described at later points in the story as a ghost which is significant), devoid of the characteristics that identify one as being human. His actions are pale and mechanical. He never eats a proper meal and, as far as anyone can tell, he never leaves the office. Consequently, Bartleby is thin and wan. He is silent unless he is directly provoked with a request or an inquisition. When he responds it is always with the same passive phrase, "I would prefer not." In this statement, he expresses that he is worn out, not intentionally being defiant. Bartleby is a beaten man. He is completely nonchalant. He cannot be aroused to anger. Bartleby is dissatisfied and slowly disengages himself from the work that is expected of him and eventually from the greater world beyond Wall Street.

The role of Bartleby in the story is to show the narrator along with the readers that there is another way of viewing things, as they appear according to a miserable scrivener. In his eyes the corporate world is a desolate place that strips inhabitants of any humanity they entered with. The narrator had found ways to adapt to this life. It exhausted Bartleby. The narrator eventually accepts Bartleby as an extension of himself, his ghost.

-- CrystalShiloh @ 07:50 PM