September 08, 2004

Huge Contrast in "Bartleby, the Scrivener"

I found that a contrast jumped out at me as I read Herman Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener." This is supposed to be a "story of wallstreet" and when I first think of Wallstreet, choas and confusion comes to my mind. Wall street is a place of business and economic growth and one might assume that individuals placed in this environment would be energetic and money hungry.

This begins the contrast that i found in this short story. Bartleby does not fit in his environment. Bartleby is slow moving, passive, and does not concern himself with money. If anyone does not agree, here are a few examples of Bartleby's actions.
1. When the narrator calls for Bartleby to come do something for him, he is slow to rely, slow to show himself, and passively says "I would prefer not to."
2. Bartleby does not seem to care about money. He does not seem to care if he is fired from his job, and when the narrator offers him money to vacate the premises, Bartleby just lets the money lay of the desk, untouched.

Why would you work on wall street if you did not care about money???

Bartleby's passive behavior evokes strange behavior from others. In a world used to turning to violence, this story depicts just the opposite. The narrator cannot seem to be mean or forceful with Bartleby because of how passive and honest he appears to be. I do not think that the narrator could be a succuesful businessman on Wall Street if he always tried to be so nice. He puts up with bad employees and lets them walk all over him. In such a competitive market, the kind of workers employed by the narrator today would hear, in the words a Donald Trump, "You're Fired !".

I found an interesting site that compares and contrasts Wallstreet of the 1850s to that of the 1990s. The article discusses how in the 1850s people were trying to distinguish between skilled and unskilled workers and I did not really like the fact that they incorporated that with Melville's novel. I do not think there is a question as to whether Bartleby was a skilled worker or not. He obviously had skills to work in the office at the beginning, he just chose not to by the end. A good point this article did make was the issue of stirkes in the 1990s. After thinking that Bartleby was disobedient to his boss not because he was unskilled at the task but because he was in a way revolting against his employer and going on strike. The big question then becomes why, why did such a passive individual cause so much turmoil in the office? This again creates contrast in the novel. Bartleby may not have been passive all along, he could have been a very smart guy who uses passiveness to get his way or to prove a point that he is sick of working and listening to other people boss him around. He is sick of feeling trapped in a life of copying and reading papers, and he rebels to feel alive again!

Posted by TrishaWehrle at September 8, 2004 03:44 PM

i like bartleby; he's a hermit like me!!!

Posted by: Kelly at September 8, 2004 03:57 PM

Do you think the narrator of this story was reliable and honest?

Posted by: KatieAikins at September 8, 2004 03:57 PM

I like your point about Wall Street being a competetive aggressive place, and how Melville and Barnleby do not connect with this idea. Donald Trump would be less than compasionate for someone like Barnleby!!

Posted by: Jessica Zelenak at September 8, 2004 03:58 PM

i agree with what you said but maybe shows how there is more to wall street than the just money. sorry i lost the rest of my comments.

I told amber when she call home today that cal is going down tonight. well she laught and ask what our game plan was.

Posted by: April Santavy at September 8, 2004 04:07 PM

The narrator mentions that he doesn't like practicing law in front of a jury; instead, he works with businessmen. He's not first and foremost a businessman, though of course he does run a small law office, where he employs a handful of people.

What do you think Melville was trying to say, when he placed this particular narrator in a story with the even more passive Bartleby?

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at September 8, 2004 04:35 PM

Once I read your comment about how Wallstreet is more than just about money, it made me really think. This is a perfect example of how I had a stereotype in my head about wallstreet and i completely explained what that was in my Post. I did not realize that Wallstreet does not refer to all stockmarket endeavors, but it could also be a law office for example, and the narrator seemed more interested in his job than the money he was making. He actually seemed very generous and giving with his money.

I think that Melville was trying to show that in business, you have to be a little ruthless to be successful. The narrator was put in the situation with a passive employee to see how he would handle the situation, and frankly he did a horrible job. There is a reason some business men are successful and why some are not. You do not see the nice business people riding around in fancy cars and expensive clothes. I think Melville is excusing agressive behavior in business men to reach success, by making the narrator so weak and helpless in his own office. What do you think?


Posted by: trishawehrle at October 9, 2004 01:45 AM
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