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Bartleby the Broken Transcendentalist


While it is very easy and convenient to relate the novel, Bartleby the Scrivener, to the Occupy
movement that occurred in New York City, in the analysis of the historical time line of when Herman
Melville wrote and published the novel, it can be inferred that Mr. Melville had a different idea of
protest in mind. The novel was published in 1953, well before any occupy movement was taking place;
therefore, the use of the phrase I prefer not to during the occupy protests may be out of the context
Melville had originally planned. Through the novel, Bartleby the Scrivener, Melville has given the
audience his own interpretation of protest using character, ethos, and setting to show that the purpose of
Bartleby was not to start a collective protest among like thinking individuals but rather to demonstrate
the might of a broken individual.
First, an important structure Melville sets up in the novel is by introducing each of the
characters who work in the Lawyers office and describes each of their habits and personalities.
Through the Lawyers eyes and his interpretations, it can quickly noticed that the novel is written
through first person limited point of view. By realizing this, it can be further inferred that all the
characters and their true identities will be limited by the point of view of the narrative character, and
some things will never be understood since the narrator himself does not understand it. This fact is
completely obvious when the reader is introduced to Bartleby and, until the end, knows nothing about
him until the Lawyer discovers himself that Bartleby use to work in the dead letter office in the postal
system. Using this type of system, Melville is successful in building suspense and painting Bartleby as
an interesting but also eccentric character.
In relation to the previous statements, ethos plays a large part in helping the reader form his or
her own opinions about a particular character. First, the Lawyer, introduces himself as a respectable,
kind man. Then the reader is convinced of this when he takes care of Bartleby to a point where the
Lawyer offers his own home as a place to stay for Bartleby so he does not have to go to jail. Since the
ethos of the Lawyer seems relatively reliable, the eyes through which the readers read through can be
determined to be a reliable and accurate representation of what occurs throughout the novel. Moreover,
the Lawyer also has a lot of experience working in Wall Street and with his employees so when
Bartleby rebels against the Lawyer, he is understanding and approaches the matter in a clear logical
way. Through the calm personality of the Lawyer, it can be safely concluded that his tone and views of
Bartleby is what really shapes the readers perception of him.
The setting Melville chose for the short story is a particularly interesting one. First, during that
time, Wall Street was the growing center for American stock exchange. Secondly and the most
interesting point is that approximately a century and a half later, Wall Street has become the center for
stock exchange and quite recently has had a protest in which protesters used Bartleby's most famous
phrase I would prefer not to. Another observation that can be made is that Bartleby's desk is right
under a window with a small ray of light shining through between two lofty buildings. This type of
description and scene setting was used to suggest that Bartleby had a very sad history and is a broken
man who may have experienced too much grief.
The most important idea to take away from the novel is why Melville wrote the novel. By
recalling the recent Wall Street protest, the occupy movement, protesters protested about the inequality
of wealth distribution in America. While it may be easy to choose this particular novel to use as proof
of historical social economical inequality, by examining the time line of Melville's life and noting that
the novel was published in 1953, way before the recession occurred and any of the occupy movements
has occurred, it can be concluded that Melville did not have in mind the social economical inequality

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the protesters had thought. Instead, transcendentalism was promontory during his time and much like
Mr. Thoreau and Mr. Emerson, Bartleby was a single man who did not believe in social values and
instead stuck to his beliefs and values which ultimately caused him to go to jail just like Mr. Emerson.
Another interesting point that could be pointed out was that when Bartleby was working the dead letter
department at the United States Postal Service, he may have been exposed to so many depressing
letters about the Cholera and became struck down by the letters to the deceased.
Secondly and the most interesting point is that approximately a century and a half later, Wall Street has
become the center for stock exchange and quite recently has had a protest in which protesters used
Bartleby's most famous phrase I would prefer not to. to protest about the inequality of wealth
distribution in America. While it may be easy to choose this particular novel to use as proof of
historical social economical inequality, by examining the time line of Melville's life and observing that
the novel was published in 1953, way before the recession occurred and any of the occupy movements
has occurred.