Bartleby the Scrivener

Essay by MianmianFeiHigh School, 11th grade November 2014

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Frederica Fei

Mr. Ollivier

AP Language and Composition 1

28 Feb 2014

He stands mutely and solitarily in the middle of the room, facing a dead brick wall motionlessly and expressionlessly, "like the last column of some ruined temple." (Melville, 146) If you ask him something, he will always reply "I would prefer not" (Melville, 21) in a singularly mild, firm voice or just remain silent, sliding aside to his hermitage behind the screen. He is Bartleby, the forlorn and eccentric scrivener Bartleby. Anyone who comes across him may consider him to be an intrepid hero who openly deviates from the exploitative capitalism, or a wicked villain who brazenly disturbs the established capitalistic social order. But I would prefer to regard him as a tragic figure of the capitalistic society, who is doomed to the miserable fate because of the intolerance of the capitalistic society to the aberrant, his emotional isolation and physical confinement.

Primarily, capitalistic society ostracizes Bartleby who dares to challenge the authority and express his outright will. The story is set at Wall Street, the financial center of the United States, in the 1850s, during which the country was experiencing an economic surge due to mass migration and British investment. Alongside with the economic growth was the inclination to a capitalistic society, in which workers worked in a common mold--working a full day, going home, and relaxing--in pursuing as much benefits as possible. Being in the most bustling center of the growth, Bartleby, at first, conforms fully to this mold. He gorges himself silently and mechanically on the documents from day to nigh, "as if long famishing for something to copy," and the quantity of his copying is "extraordinary." (Melville, 18) The narrator, of course, feels "quite delighted with his application," (Melville, 18) as his industriousness maximizes...