You are on page 1of 10

Hammond 1

Alex Hammond
September 16, 2014
Professor Schouten
English 2
Helping the Harm
We are raised to think that helping people is good and standing
by is bad. From the time we are in grade school, we are basically
told to stick our nose in everyone elses business as long as it means
helping them. But is interference always best? Could our attempt to
help actually be harmful? Have you ever thought of the saying No
good deed goes unpunished? It is a remarkably accurate statement.
With every good deed, someone is punished. This does not, however,
mean that the person partaking in the deed will be punished. In some
cases, attempting to help only causes more pain to the person you
were attempting to help. In Herman Melvilles Bartleby we can see an
example of this. Bartleby, for example, was seemingly fine at the
beginning of the story. It was only after continuous interference on the
bosss part that he began to deteriorate. In looking at Bartleby, it is
important to look not only at how the boss affected Bartleby and his
well-being but also what gave the boss this power to interfere. We
must wonder at what would have happened if Bartleby had just been
left alone.

Hammond 2
Humans are social creatures and, as a result, need some form of
interaction. But is that necessarily true for everyone? What about the
introverts? How would a boss that is always interfering affect an
introvert? The oxford Dictionary defines them as a person
predominantly concerned with their own thoughts and feelings rather
that with external things. They are perfectly content to amuse
themselves in their minds; they dont need outside interference. What
if Bartleby was just an introvert? It wasnt as if he was particularly
talkative, so the idea is no stretch. As an introvert, he attempted to
keep the rest of the world out of his life and focused on his own
problems, as described from the definition. The narrator did not make
that possible. While, at first, the narrators intrusion was expected and
even appreciated, as the story progressed, it became more and more
strange. He should have, admittedly, fired Bartleby. Perhaps it was his
sense of charity or even simple curiosity that encouraged him to keep
Bartleby. Whatever it was, it helped to ruin Bartlebys life.
As the bosss interference grew, so did Bartlebys isolation.
Meanwhile Bartleby sat in his hermitage, oblivious to everything but
his own particular business there (Melville). This demonstrates
Bartlebys progression into isolation. His only separation from the
office, at that point in time, was a screen. Not very private and
certainly not sturdy enough to offer most people privacy but Bartleby
found his own little world. This quote shows his need for isolation.

Hammond 3
Bartleby acts how most of us would act in his place. When continually
harassed, questioned and talked to, some simply need time to
compose themselves. When the boss offered little resistance to his
isolation, it caused it to become something much more permanent. The
narrator, while attempting to figure out Bartleby, actually ended up
causing him to isolate himself completely. Sometimes it is better to be
a bystander.
Isolation has a particularly negative effect on the human psych.
With no interaction with the outside world, is it any wonder that ones
mind begins to deteriorate? In Bartleby we see how the narrators
interference caused Bartleby to retreat into isolation and, as a result,
decline in mental stability to the point of death. Bartleby isnt the only
story to explore the idea of mental deterioration, so is The Yellow
Wallpaper by Charlotte Gilman. These two stories have a lot in
common when it comes to looking at mental health.
Through the narrators continuous interference we see a
staggering effect on Bartlebys mental stability. Towards the beginning
of the story, Bartleby was a rather good employee. He didnt complain
and his work was always the highest quality. Maybe it was that first
instance of Bartleby stating, I would prefer not to that spurred his
subsequent decline. Without it, the narrator never would have become
curious enough to become so involved in his life. While relatively sound
in mind towards the beginning of the story, the reader can see a

Hammond 4
distinct shift in Bartlebys mental proficiency as the interference
continues to grow. He retreats into himself, stares at wall, and typically
does things that most would consider crazy. When the narrator decides
to abandon him, the reader encounters how others in Bartlebys world
view this behavior. Mr. Bhas turned him out of his room, and he
now persists in haunting the building generally, sitting upon the
banisters of the stairs by day, and sleeping in the entry by night. This
quote shows the narrators effect on Bartleby. He is no longer mentally
stable and has taken to whatever action amuses him- be it sitting on
banisters or haunting the hallways. These actions show longing for a
life more simple or carefree. This longing could have been brought up
through the narrators incessant prodding about his past. Without the
narrator, Bartleby would never have declined as quickly as he did.
This is also true for The Yellow Wallpaper. In the story, a
woman is confined to her room in absolute isolation in hopes that she
will recover from whatever inane disorder her husband perceives she
suffers from. At the beginning of the story, she is perfectly fine. She
even understands why her husband did what he did. As the story
progresses, however, we see a steep decline in mental competence.
I've got out at last," said I, "in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled
off most of the paper, so you can't put me back! This quote shows
the narrators madness. Being confined, on her husbands orders, was
nothing short of brutal. The woman Jane that she speaks of isnt a

Hammond 5
neighbor or friend that helped to keep her isolated but rather herself.
She thought of herself as a prisoner as now considers herself free. This
is very similar to Bartleby. Both Bartleby and the narrator in The
Yellow Wallpaper descended into madness after the interference of
others. Their isolation inevitably caused them to lose their minds.
It has been determined that many of Bartlebys problems
stemmed from the interference of the boss but what exactly gives the
boss the right to do this? His meddling isnt purely compassion or
sympathy. It is also about the power. When looking at what the boss
got out of helping Bartleby, it would be helpful to look at the
psychological question of who gets more out helping people, the
person helped or the person helping. In regards to Bartleby, I believe
that the narrator gets more. He not only exerts his power as a boss
telling his employee what to do but also as a fellow human being
feeling wise enough and powerful enough to have the right to give
advice and recommendation. Tal Kastner, a PhD from Princeton
University, stated in his analysis of Bartleby that, Ultimately, this
reading of "Bartleby" underscores the significance of embedded social
structures and relations of power in determining the possibility of
agency through contract. Through this we can see that the power
that the narrator wields in not only something he himself believes he
has but also what the society of the time believes he is entitled to. It
also suggests that because the lawyer employs Bartleby, the lawyer

Hammond 6
has an undeniable place of power over him. In Bartleby the lawyer
states . . . the man you allude to is nothing to mehe is no relation or
apprentice of mine, that you should hold me responsible for him. This
is perhaps one of the most peculiar things of the story. We see in this
that the lawyer is denying all contact with Bartleby. This is shown as
one of the final acts of power of the lawyers. The power to completely
wash his hands of Bartleby.
Bartleby may be one of the best pieces of literature in all of
history. It can be interpreted in as many ways as there are people. The
story carefully wove the bosss interference, into the affects to Bartleby
and ultimately into the power of the boss in order to create a skilled
masterpiece many will be confounded by. This story did not just teach
us to be aware of ulterior motives but also to be conscious of who has
the power and why. In leaving this story I take many things but most
importantly that sometimes it is all right to leave people alone. You
never know the consequences of your actions until too late.

Hammond 7
Works Cited
Melville, Herman. Bartleby, the Scrivener. N.p.: n.p., 1853. Bartleby, the Scrivener: A
Story of Wall-street. 2009. Web. 16 Sept. 2014.

Kastner, Tal. ""Bartleby": A Story of Boilerplate." Law and Literature 23.3 (2011):
365,404,472. ProQuest. Web. 16 Sep. 2014.

Gilman, Charlotte P. "The Yellow Wallpaper." Eastoftheweb. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Sept.

Hammond 8

Best Piece Reflection Form

Title of Assignment: __________Help the Harm___________
Date of Assignment: _____September 16, 2014______
Course in which assignment was completed:


Briefly describe the assignment. What steps did you need to take in order to
complete this assignment? What resources, software, skills were required to
complete this assignment?

This assignment was a response to the short story Bateleby. This five page
essay drew examples from other works of liturature in order to support the point made.
To complete this assignment, I did an in depth reading of the story and found a separate
source to support my interpretation. After writing the essay, it was then reviewed by my
classmates before being submitted for a grade.

Hammond 9
Complete this form with an essay response ( page 1 page; BCMHS
Academic Report Format) addressing the following questions.

I chose this essay as my best piece because I felt that it was one of my best pieces
of written work. I felt that it showed my skills in both analysis and use of sources.
In this piece, the reader should expect to find an in depth look into Bartlebys
downfall. They should come away second guessing their reading of the story and
wondering if they had misinterpreted it initially. It is my hope that by reading this the
reader sees my ability to analyze and connect ideas related to important works of
liturature. This was one of my favorite assignments, It was one of the first longer
essays I did and it taught me a lot about higher level writing. It taught me the
importance of editing and reviewing as well as incorperating peer insight into my
works. I plan to use this knowledge in my college career to advance myself in my
studies. I think that the skills I learned through this assignement will help all future
essays and writing assignments far surpass those of my peers.

Hammond 10