Persuasive Paper: “Ah, Bartleby! Ah, Humanity!”

1023 words - 5 pages

The infamous ending statement in Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” “Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!” (Melville 34), signifies not only the tragic demise of the character of Bartleby, but the dismal ruin of mankind as well. This enigmatic statement can be applied to both “Bartleby the Scrivener” and Melville’s other short story, “Benito Cereno.” Both stories are narrated by unreliable characters, leaving further questions on whether or not the Lawyer was genuinely trying to help Bartleby when he showed signs of depression or if the one-sided story of Captain Delano truly portrayed the slaves and their motives for taking over Cereno’s San Dominick. In each of Melville’s short stories, ...view middle of the document...

In addition, both narrators were terribly slow on picking up the plots of their stories and showed oblivious qualities in noticing a problem. It took the Lawyer the entire story and after Bartleby’s death to realize that the monotonous work he was giving him to do drove him to his end. Likewise, the numerous clues Cereno and his crew hinted at Delano, as he clumsily tried to puzzle together the abnormalities that were showing up around the ship, were useless until the undeniable truth of the issue was thrown at him once Cereno jumped in his lifeboat revealing that they were being held captive by Babo and the other slaves.
Each story starts out grudgingly slow and meticulously descriptive about all of the characters and the events leading up to the present situation. “Bartleby the Scrivener” begins with the Lawyer discussing about the business and all of the employees before he begins to talk about what happened to Bartleby. Similarly, in “Benito Cereno,” Captain Delano slowly and steadily pieces together all of the strange events that he finds on the ship before the truth behind the “genially... Newfoundland dogs” (Melville 73) is revealed. Melville writes the stories in this manner to show how morally blind people are in human nature. The Lawyer is so lazy in his work and efforts that he does not even notice how depressed Bartleby is with his work. It also shows how ignorant white people were during slavery by making Captain Delano slow to catch on to the black rebellion and still title the slaves as the evildoers even though they were only fighting for their freedom.
The symbolism of grayness in each story is perhaps one of the most important factors in analyzing the meaning behind Melville’s intentions. In “Bartleby the Scrivener,” Melville uses the grayness of Bartleby’s gradual breakdown to relate to the failure of humanity. Bartleby starts out as a diligent worker, pleasing the Lawyer. “At first, Bartleby did an extraordinary quantity of writing. As if long...

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