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The Role Of Food Essay

1007 words - 5 pages

“Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street,” is one of Melville’s most perplexing and intricate works. Despite its alleged complexity, it is a compelling story to read. Many mysteries and unanswered questions seem to surround Herman Melville’s story. Literary symbols extend meaning beyond the prosaic representation of realities. Food plays a role symbolically in the story, as it is one of the many things that stand out to the narrator. In a story where materialism plays a significant role, food symbolizes personality, the fulfilments of needs and the representation of compassion.
To begin with, Melville uses foods to describe characters based on their consumption. The nicknames ...view middle of the document...

The “quick witted youth” (5) had the duty to set and bring the mood of the two scriveners.
Secondly, food in “Bartleby the Scrivener” represents the need for nourishment. The narrator wonders how Bartleby manages to sustain himself on ginger-nut cakes without becoming “hot and spicy” (10) like ginger. In addition, Bartleby avoids food, refuses to go out and eat or drink, and denies himself of that essential element to life – eating. The narrator was confused that “he lives then on ginger nuts, thought I; never eats dinner, properly speaking; he must be a vegetarian, then; but no, he never eats even vegetables, he eats nothing but ginger nuts” (12). According to Bartleby, learning to digest only one nourishment is much simpler than following a varied diet. After a while, Bartleby did not bother to eat at all. When he first started his job with the lawyer, “as if long famishing for something to copy, he seemed to gorge himself” (7) on the lawyer’s documents. He worked day and night and “there was no pause for digestion” (7). Bartleby tries to look for gratification in work but as a result he was deprived of shelter, family, and acceptance. Later on, he soon finds that business and money cannot fulfill his needs for love, charity, and understanding. Losing hope, Bartleby starts to deny all sources of nourishment including both work and food. He eventually starves to death showing his inability to find fulfillment in society. Not only does food emphasize the need for physical nourishment but also for emotional and psychological sustenance.
Lastly, the narrator tries to be compassionate towards Bartleby through nutriment. For example he expresses, “To befriend Bartleby…will eventually provide a sweet morsel for my conscience” (10). The odd use of sweet morsel in this context illustrates the use of food in this text. Furthermore, he pays for...

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