Significance of food and wall tropes in Herman Melville's "Bartleby".

Essay by MavkaUniversity, Bachelor'sA-, September 2004

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Reading Herman Melville's "Bartleby" for the first time, one must wonder whether Bartleby, seemingly the main character, is insane. At this point readers try to assign a proper type of psychiatric disorder to him. During the second reading, the author's commitment to certain objects, such as walls and food in any representation, and specific feelings, such as sadness, solitude, melancholy, seems strange. When I read this novella for the third time, it dawned on me: Bartleby's human cover is just a symbolic representation of the lawyer's inner world, the reflection of his spirit. Bartleby's behavior is eccentric and overdone just as much as it seems to be insane to the reader.

I see the parallels between Bartleby's behavior and the condition of Wall Street society's spiritual life of that time. Material wellness becomes much more important than spiritual fullness. People are concerned with their jobs and earnings only; just as Bartleby, they spend most time inside the office.

They are isolated from the life outside of "The Walls". The wall itself symbolizes the moral confines, inevitable dead-end: whereas Bartleby mulishly faces the dead-wall, the people whose lives are internally empty and lack enlightenment are close to the spiritual death. The narrator doesn't seem to have family and any life outside the office walls, and so does Bartleby. Bartleby says "I prefer not to make any change" (Melville, 29), and so does the narrator: he calls himself unambitious and prefers nothing "to invade his peace" (Melville, 3) - he is satisfied with his life as it is. The food symbolizes moral intake: Bartleby does not eat much and eventually refuses to eat at all; in the meantime narrator seems not to have any "food" for his soul himself. In prison, Bartleby refuses to...