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Bartleby Paper

April 14th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Did one ever want to live in New York? What about working on Wall Street? One might prefer not to after reading, “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” by Herman Melville. This short story is not only about life on Wall Street but also how one should treat others less fortunate then oneself.

The main character is an elderly lawyer who never takes risky deals or draws attention to himself. His personality is similar to that of a shy turtle. He also provides us with the story in the first person point of view, introducing the strange Bartleby.

Bartleby is “a motionless young man…pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, incurably forlorn.” The lawyer hires Bartleby to be a copier, but after awhile, Bartleby says he would “prefer not to” do his work. Then the lawyer finds out that Bartleby is living in the office but he feels bad for Bartleby so doesn’t say anything. But when Bartleby stops doing his job, he asks Bartleby to leave.

Bartleby does not leave however; he “remained as ever, a fixture in my chamber. Nay-if that were possible-he became still more of a fixture then before.” Finally, the main character can take no more and he moves out of the building, instead of just putting a restraining order on Bartleby. The lawyer tries to be kind to Bartleby by giving him a job, letting him live in the office, even after he had fired him, and having patience with him when he says “I prefer not to.” This shows that the main character had enough compassion to finally just give up on Bartleby.

Bartleby doesn’t leave the building, and the new tenants tell the lawyer that since he left Bartleby behind, he is responsible for him. The lawyer suggests a couple of jobs for Bartleby but he just answers, “I would prefer not to.” At last, Bartleby is put in jail for staying in the building where he says he “would prefer not to” eat at all and so Bartleby dies in jail.

The main character owns the building in which the story takes place. “My chambers were up stairs,…at one end, they looked upon the white interior of a spacious skylight shaft…from the other end…my windows commanded an unobstructed view of a lofty brick wall, black by age and everlasting shade.” The setting can be a symbol of the ruin let by Wall Street, a useless and deserted edifice. Bartleby himself could be symbolic. His job before he became a copier was “subordinate clerk in the Dead Letter Office at Washington.” Bartleby’s mind and common sense is like the clerk job…it doesn’t exist.

The question presented in the end, is could the narrator or main character have done something else to prevent Bartleby’s death? Well first of all who are we as human beings responsible for? Ourselves as well as other or just ourselves and if we are responsible for others, what if they themselves don’t want to be helped?

The answer is quite simple. The narrator did everything he could to help Bartleby. He gave him a job, a place to live, and even after he fired him he tried to get him a job and another place to live along with a reasonable salary to take with him. Bartleby simply didn’t want to be helped. Bartleby’s mind was just blank and was beyond help. Yes, we should help others as much as we can but there are limitations. If one is helping others more then oneself, are you really being much of a help? How can one take care of others when one can’t even take care of oneself? One can’t, one must just as much as one can to make the world a better place and make people like Bartleby as comfortable as possible. That could be the best way to be towards humanity.

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