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Bartleby The Scrivener Essay

1759 words - 7 pages

In Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener”, a story of “the strangest” law-copyist the narrator, a lawyer, has ever employed is told. The narrator experiences conflict with Bartleby when he “prefers not to” examine some law papers. Once Bartleby “prefers not to” once, he continues to repeat the statement on all request asked of him. This statement sends Bartleby into a state of tranquility, staying isolated in the cubical and refusing all assistance by any means. This state results in him going to jail, and eventually dying. This passive resistance Bartleby exhibits traps him physically and psychologically by surrounding him with “walls” the narrator symbolically describes numerous times. The idea of transcendentalism arises from Bartleby’s civil disobedience. The notion of transcendentalism is expressed by Bartleby when he refuses to work and spreads the ideals of transcendentalism, yet he does not succeed in breaking free of society’s chains, instead he dies trying. In Melville’s story the use of repetition, symbolism, and imagery prove Bartley is in fact a transcendentalist, but a failing one at that.
The symbolism of isolation is key in describing Bartleby as a transcendentalist. The narrator describes the loneliness of Bartleby;
This building too, which of week-days hums with industry and life, at nightfall echoes with sheer vacancy, and all through Sunday is forlorn. And here Bartleby makes his home; sole spectator of a solitude which he has seen all populous--a sort of innocent and transformed Marius brooding among the ruins of Carthage! (11).
The narrator uses a reference of Marius, a Roman general who was exiled from Rome to relate how isolated Bartleby is. The seclusion relates to transcendentalism because the idea that looking within yourself for knowledge is most important, explaining why Bartleby is so “friendlessness”(11). I think the idea from transcendentalism that there is no form of superior intelligence is the reason as to why Bartleby “prefers not to”(6) in all forms of requests. This is the moment in the story where Bartleby assumes the position of a transcendentalist. This point is where he breaks free of societal duties and refuses all help from the narrator, denying money and shelter from him. Although critiques such as Walter E. Anderson argue that Bartleby’s isolation shows “Christian-moral reading is the correct context” to assume, I disagree. There are allusions to biblical texts such as the narrator referring to himself and Bartleby as “sons of Adam”(11). But I think Bartleby is isolated to show how he is alone from everyone, living in a cubical, and being surrounded by walls. Although Christianity gives feelings of isolation with God, Bartleby is isolated with his spiritual self, saying he “would prefer to make no change at all”(21). Bartleby determines his fate by questioning himself and his societal roles. He does not look to Christ in any form, not believing in a higher intellectual form. Instead he finds...

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