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Bartleby, the Scrivener

Bartleby, the Scrivener

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Published by: gocubbies1616 on Nov 21, 2007
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05/19/2013

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Katelyn BrownEnglish 103 – XJohn Marsh9/19/2005
The Lawyer and His Scrivener: Different People or Adverse Aspects of Personality?
“Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!While it is easy to see why most critics who read Herman Melville’s “Bartleby,the Scrivener” believe that Melville created two opposing characters to represent all of humanity, a more close and careful reading suggests that he created the two characters torepresent opposing aspects of an individual human’s personality. This argument is rarelyacknowledged as a possibility of Melville’s underlying meaning; however, without this possibility, readers might not realize that they, themselves, are both the lawyer and thescrivener battling in a world of social agendas and financial superiority. To prove that thelawyer and Bartleby represent opposing aspects of personality in regards to well-being, perspective, motivational memories, and attitude prevalence,
 
this essay will observe mainthemes and points of conflict throughout the story and verify the argument that Melvilledoes indeed describe a single person.After reading and reevaluating critical analysis’ of Melville’s short story“Bartleby, the Scrivener,” I believe that most readers have been misguided into thinkingthat the narrator and Bartleby represent two contrasting types of people in society. Criticsoften believe that the narrator of this story could be characterized as the hard-working or good Christian portion of society, while Bartleby represents the unmotivated, even lazy portion. Contrary to this belief, the lawyer and the scrivener represent two opposingattitudes toward self-preservation within an individual. For example, the lawyer 
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describes himself as “an eminently safe man,” implying that his safety is important tohim. Bartleby, however, realizes that the lawyer is agitated by his unwillingness to copy,yet has no concern over his safety at the office. At one point, the agitation becomes highenough to allow murder to cross the lawyer’s mind as a possible option of riddingBartleby from his chambers. He comments, “It was the circumstance of being alone in asolitary office, up stairs, of a building entirely unhallowed by human domesticassociations… which greatly helped to enhance the irritable desperation… (Lawn 45).This contrast represents one attitude within a person as being greatly concerned for his/her well-being, while the opposing attitude is extremely indifferent to well-being.Although readers might object that these two attitudes are mutually exclusive within one personality, I urge them to analyze themselves. Jumping out of a plane might raisenumerous concerns about his/her safety, but the dangers of getting into a car are oftendisregarded with a blasé disposition. Both activities are relatively dangerous without the proper experience, yet most people don’t realize that riding in a car is statistically moredangerous than jumping out of an airplane. Because of these opposite attitudes in asingle personality, Bartleby and the narrator can be described as different parts of thesame person.Besides concern for well-being, as represented by the lawyer and the scrivener,another contrasting aspect of a human’s personality is perspective: authoritarian versustranscendental. In the words of C. George Boeree, a psychology professor atShippensburg University in Pennsylvania, the lawyer can be described as authoritarian because he “accepts only one social reality, and understands it as universal. Someonewho does not accept the same social reality is seen as either an infant or insane. When
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the social reality is threatened…the tendency is for defense mechanisms to engage”(Boeree). For example, when Barleby starts affecting the lawyer’s career, the lawyer feels undermined by his trivial actions. The narrator says:At last I was made aware that all through the circle of my professionalacquaintance, a whisper of wonder was running round, having reference to thestrange creature I kept at my office. This worried me very much. And as the ideacame upon me of his possibly turning out a long-lived man, and keepingoccupying my chambers, and denying my authority; and perplexing my visitors;and scandalizing my professional reputation; and casting a general gloom over the premises…I resolved to gather all my faculties together, and forever rid me of thisintolerable incubus (Lawn 46)Bartleby would just sit at the office and refuse to help anyone. When professional friendsof the lawyer would inquire as to his whereabouts, the scrivener would not give ananswer. The narrator’s reaction is characteristic of an authoritarian person because herejects the fact that Bartleby is different from him and eventually becomes defensive.Bartleby, however, represents a transcendentalist perspective in that he was“moving closer and closer to an unconscious state while retaining the ability to retain theexperience” (Boeree). The scrivener comes to the lawyer’s office in search of work as acopyist. Eventually, however, Bartleby refuses to do any more copying, even whenthreatened with the termination of his job there. Through his own actions, the movement becomes quite apparent. At first he seems “long famishing for something to copy, heseemed to gorge himself on [the] documents. There was no pause for digestion. He ran aday and night line, copying by sun-light and by candle-light” (Lawn 28); however,moving towards the end, “Bartleby did nothing but stand at his window in his dead-wallrevery. Upon asking him why he did not write, he said that he had decided upon doing nomore writing” (40). It seems as though Bartleby progressively dyes throughout the story.
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