“Bartleby The Scrivener” by Herman Melville displays the existing conflicts between the capitalistic values of Wallstreet and the values of Christianity that the narrator faces throughout the story. At the end of the story, he exclaims “Ah Bartleby! Ah, Humanity!”, in an attempt to illustrate his sorrow and regrets at being unable to change the tragic outcome of Bartleby’s life. As observed by the narrator, Bartleby began as a diligent worker, copying without a break during the day and continuing to work for hours on end as a scrivener. As mentioned in the story, “At first, Bartleby did an extraordinary quantity of writing.
As if long famishing for something to copy, he seemed to gorge himself on my documents. There was no pause for digestion. He ran a day and night line, copying by sunlight and by candle-light”. Although happy with the amount of work being completed by Bartleby the lawyer would worry the fact that he never smiled.(19-20). Although proving to be reliable, he declines to participate in any other work activities simply replying “I would prefer not to” each time he was asked (Melville 6).
Eventually, his progress as a scrivener would come to a complete halt. In addition to his change of preference, Bartleby would prefer never write again. After some days when asked why he would not write by the lawyer, Bartleby turns to him and says, “Do you not see the reason for yourself”(16). In that moment he reveals his dull and glazed eyes to the lawyer. The lawyer noticed this as a cause for Bartleby’s work stoppage and suggests that he takes a break from writing until he feels better. This implies that the lawyer does show sympathy towards Bartleby. The narrator would become increasingly troubled when he encounters Bartleby.
I sight this as him attempting to reconcile between being a cutthroat businessman of Wall Street and sympathizing with Bartleby as a depressed human being in the time of need. He would choose to do both in regards to Bartleby’s situation, the lawyer stated, “My first emotions had been those of pure melancholy and sincere 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” (13). In the article, “Emptiness and plenitude in “Bartleby the Scrivener” and ‘The Crying of Lot 49’ critic James S. Hans says that ‘up to a certain point the thought or sight of misery enlists our best affections; but, in certain special cases, beyond that point it does not” (Hans). Hans makes a strong point in this statement, suggesting that Bartleby is a special case requiring one’s affection to go beyond points of measure, but that point could not go beyond for the lawyer. Furthermore, the narrator seems to relate to Bartleby’s life as if he had once himself been in the same position as Bartleby.
Finally, as the narrator could no longer encounter Bartleby without feeling pity he admits stating, “The bond of a common humanity now drew me irresistibly to gloom. A fraternal melancholy! For both, I and Bartleby were sons of Adam”(12). Clearly, this reference is to the lawyer, his now irresistible gloom for Bartleby can be seen as a linkage between the two, but also is a sign of his loss of control over Bartleby.
Hans states, “The desire to exert control over the flow of life must be strong indeed, for he has clearly been willing to sacrifice his life and all its intense possibilities for the ability to moderate the unpleasure that is an inevitable part of existence” (Hans). With the refusal of leaving the place of work after no longer working as a scrivener for the lawyer, he would wash his hands of anything and everything to do with Bartleby. As a result, Bartleby would be subjected to be sent to the tombs as a vagrant. The lawyer still possessing an irresistible gloom for Bartleby he would go to visit him, the suggestion that the tombs were not quite bad which no human in their conscious state of mind would rightfully say. Before leaving he would then assure that Bartleby was fed the best quality food by the grubs man, but by then the damage had been done.
Evidently, Bartleby would begin entirely refusing to eat, becoming weaker and weaker by the day until eventually dying from starvation. The narrator would return a few days later to seek Bartleby finding him in a fetal position laying on his side, Bartleby was dead. As he touches Bartleby’s lifeless body the narrator exclaims Ah Bartleby Ah Humanity. Moreover, as the story continues its progression the narrator becomes more and more sympathetic to the idea of Bartleby. It is believed that the narrator knew more about Bartleby than expected. As rumored by the lawyer the only piece of background information provided on Bartleby was that he had been a worker in the dead letter section of the post office, where his duties would have been to review and destroy items that had been lost in the mail. Due to a change in administration Bartleby would be laid off, it is suggested that as a result of working with these dead letters containing messages from people who could have died, the letter would not only remove Bartleby from society but also “sped him into his death”. In the article “Dead Letters and Dead Men: Narrative Purpose in ‘Bartleby, the Scrivener.
‘ critic Thomas R. Mitchell, suggest that Bartleby’s former employment and is passing it along in order to mitigate his sense of responsibility for Bartleby’s fate, it seems clear on a close reading that the narrator doubts the story but presents it as a symbolic revelation. Although this critic makes a strong case, it seems that the narrator would have believed this accusation and therefore would be the lawyers only reasoning for noting it in the story. After observing the lawyer would find that the association of the dead letters would be the ultimate cause of Bartleby’s death. The endless work of dealing with sad letters by the boatloads intended for dead people would be the cause of Bartleby’s disappearance from humanity and most notably his very own existence.
I believe this is also a pity cry for his neglection towards the case of Bartleby. When washing his hands of Bartleby he left the defenseless Bartleby all alone, due to his Christian background this would have been in direct correlation to the bible. In the Bible, it says “But whoever denies me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven”. This would explain his cries as a realization of what he and society had truly done. He had denied Bartleby in front of many men this went against his beliefs Bartleby simply lost his purpose in life, it is believed that if never any change to the administration he would have continued to work but Bartleby only knew how to work with dead letters and losing the job also made him lost his sense of self. Bartleby’s lack of participation by saying “I would prefer not to” can also be seen as a form of passive resistance. While working as a scrivener Bartleby seemed to be uncared for and was nonexistent until wanted for more work. His personal life was To conclude Bartleby sought help from many individuals but no one noticed him, he found comfort in the dead letters he began to read them during his time as a subordinate clerk at the post office.
He would find the last of what he believed to be human in these letters, and as result lost himself in becoming one. Humanity as a whole failed Bartleby in the time he needed someone most, the lawyer especially felt that he had failed Bartleby. He would feel that his efforts would come little too late in an attempt to save Bartleby. When in the presence of Bartleby after his death he exclaims ah Bartleby to show his sorrow for the passing of Bartleby and the regrets of not doing enough to help. Seeing the wrong in everything that was done to him.
Ah, Humanity is for the let down of not only himself but for the people who threw him to the tombs. The lawyer, in the end, would feel that he did not do enough to change the outcome of Bartleby’s life. I believe this to not be true, in order for Bartleby to save it would have taken a lot more for he was already a dead letter on errands of life failed to be delivered in time. Source Citation (MLA 8th Edition)Mitchell, Thomas R. “Dead Letters and Dead Men: Narrative Purpose in ‘Bartleby, the Scrivener.’.” Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, edited by Russel Whitaker and Laura A.
Wisner-Broyles, vol. 193, Gale, 2008. Literature Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/H1420083273/LitRC?u=essexcc&sid=LitRC&xid=242b7d3c. Accessed 4 Jan. 2018. Originally published in Studies in Short Fiction, vol.
27, no. 3, Summer 1990, pp. 329-338.Hans, James S. “Emptiness and plenitude in ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’ and ‘The Crying of Lot 49.’.” Essays in Literature, vol.
22, no. 2, 1995, p. 285+.
Literature Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A18371745/LitRC?u=essexcc&sid=LitRC&xid=36ff9d26. Accessed 4 Jan. 2018. Putnam’s Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science and Art Volume 0002 Issue 11 (November 1853) Title: Bartleby the Scrivener, A Story of Wall Street pp. 546-550 Putnam’s Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science and Art Volume 0002 Issue 12 (December 1853) Title: Bartleby the Scrivener, A Story of Wall Street pp.