October 7, 2004

I love Bartleby the Scrivener

After reading Melville's Bartleby, I fell in love with this short story. Since we've been assigned to read it, which was some time ago, I have found myself reading it just for my own enjoyment. I find this story absolutely ridiculously funny. I can't get enogh from it. I did a little bit of research into some of the small details of the story and here is what I found...

To begin, the initial humor starts in the narrorator, or the lawyer. He uses the phrase "the nature of his avocations" clearly talking about his career. I then proceeded to look up the word avocation to see what it meant and it more or less meant a hobby, second to your vocation, meaning job http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=avocations. Was the narrorator implying that he was not serious about his job? The second thing that caught my eye implementing humor was that he compared himself and praised John Jacob Astor. Astor was a man who was corrupt in his efforts to earn himself money by smuggling drugs and buying foreclosed homes during a great time of stuggle in the nation.

Overall, I found that Melville's great depths of description set most of the humor for me personally. The way that he describes each character is such great detail gives us just enough information about them that in the sequential scenes, the story line becomes funny because of their actions. For example: Turkey says "gentleness is effects of beer- Nippers and I dined together today. You see how gentle I am, sir. Shall I go black his eyes?" In this sentence, he is referring to black Bartleby's eyes. This is funny. Throughout the story, Nippers and Turkey act accordingly to what time of day it is. If it is the morning, Nippers has fuel behind his fire and is very edgy, and for Turkey, he is calm in the morning. In the evening, Turkey is feisty because he is usually drunk and Nippers is calm.

Posted by SaraRemaley at October 7, 2004 3:13 PM

Sara, I totally agree with you that this story is full of humor, especially the descriptions of Turkey and Nippers. But I wonder if it would be considered a comedy or a tragedy? Is there such a thing as a mix between the two (A comic/tragedy)? Because it is also full of depression. In one of my weblogs I stated how I thought this story related to Emerson in the fact that these characters in the story are conforming to the boring office job in society and never really taking time for themselves to be happy and enjoy life. They just go through the motions. It is kind of depressiong that (it seems like) their lives revolve around things happening in the office! Then Bartleby ultimately dies at the end. What a sad story. I am posting my link here (I put it in the URL box, but I have never done this before so, I want to make sure it works). Check it out and tell me what you think. http://blogs.setonhill.edu/JenniferHaun/005010

Posted by: Jennifer Haun at October 8, 2004 4:16 PM

Sara... I am interested in your views of this as comedy, because all i see is Melville's viewpoint on the industrial revolution, of humans reduced to mere cogs in the wheel of labor. Yes, I do know that I am weird. But there is something powerful about Bartleby's character beyond the humor; his working behind screens, his defiance of the system and the extreme workload he initially accomplished before his breakdown, lead me to believe this work could possibly be an understated, and unfortunately unknown, vision of a cold future in which endless labor's sweetest rewards would be of small baked goods, imprisonment and finally death, as the greatest escape.

Posted by: mike sichok at October 10, 2004 12:12 AM

First of all, thanks for responding. You mentioned about questioning whether their could be comedy and drama combined in a story. There is, and this is a perfect example of the two intertwined. I don't so much think that the end result of the story is comedic, but I do, however, think that all the intense description is what causes the humor.

Also, the more I think about it, the epitomy of having comedy and drama combined would be found in any of Shakespears works. A lot of his stories are about tragedy, but there is a sense of humor you can find throughout the works. I think though, that it is sometimes hard to find the drama because of the way he uses his words. For example, his play As You like It is considered a comedy, but filled with deception amongst two evil brothers between two good brothers (you may be familiar with this).

Anyways, I agree with you, it does have a sad ending, but I didn't look at it in the same perspective that you did. It is something to comtemplate!

Posted by: Sara Remaley at October 10, 2004 6:35 PM


Check this out, it looks rather interesting! It's a movie based upon this story, I have never even heard of it, until I was digging through some of the links that Jessica Zelenak from our class provided about Bartleby & Melville.




Posted by: mike sichok at October 10, 2004 11:54 PM

Well, I don't look at the story entirely as a comedy, however, I find the descriptions throughout humorous as I have stated before.As far as the industrial revolution, they all worked in the law office. They did tedious work, but they had work. Maybe Bartleby didn't want to be, like you said, "a cog in the wheel of labor". He was a non-conformist. The rest were all zombies to the labor industry.
I do think that Bartleby himself is an outcast. He seems like a lost soul who can't find his place in the world, and never will. Initially, Bartleby is seen a as a good worker and then just stops. Why? Is he being objectional or is it that the work just does not meet his needs of work satisfaction and gratification.
Anyways, the more and more I think about it, the more and more different points come up. Hit me back if you want to continue this discussion or let me knwo if you think of anything else.

Posted by: Sara Remaley at October 11, 2004 8:41 AM
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