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Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville

Bartleby, the scrivener, gives an idea into the broken life of Bartleby, which depicts changes in his career affected and ultimately influenced his emotional stand. The author clearly uses symbolism to reflect the mental state that burdens Bartleby in the Lawyer’s office. Bartleby holds signs of depression at work, which is expressed through Bartleby’s physical actions; he spends days facing his “dead-wall reveries”, which worries his boss for a man who once enjoyed his job (Melvill 24). First, leaders greatly appreciate the hard work of subordinates in society. However, it is arguable that Bartleby worked very hard when he was new as an emotional distraction to keep his mind from thinking about the misery in his life that could not let him sleep. The narrator, his boss, notes, “he ran a day and night line, copying by sunlight and by candlelight” (Melville 11). While this should have pleased any boss, he was rather worried because he adds that Bartley did his work “silently, palely, and mechanically” (Melville 11). The effort Bartleby injected to escape his own life and can show that being a workaholic has a detrimental impact.

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On further analysis, Bartleby’s life spiraled downwards, having had a job that symbolically exposed him to death. The dead letter office brings to mind a place where letters go to die and never be found or read by the people meant to receive them. First, the life of Bartleby is presented as one that takes a great leap into the Wall Street Office. It starts filled with life that slowly gets drained to the point of death without ever leaving the office. Consistently handling of dead letters and preparing them for destruction is a representation of the life that infected Bartleby, as the author notes that the levels of hopelessness within the life of Bartleby were inevitable. He states, “Can any business seem more fitted to heighten it (hopelessness) than that of continually handling these dead letters, and assorting them for the flames?” (Melville 49). His life keeps him in fear/refusal of stepping into a world where other people are (Melville 25). Relating to the dead-letter office, letters getting there never reached home or out into the world but rather captured and destroyed, not even sent back to the owners.

However, the series of changes in Bartleby’s life cannot allow him to remain in one place or go back to his old life because change became inevitable when the government at Dead Letters Office changed. Meanwhile, change can also be seen as a cause of death for Bartleby; change from his old job caused mental strain and change to prison led to his death. He occasionally mentions, “No; I would prefer not to make any change,” and “I like to be stationary” (Melville 43). Therefore, Bartleby could not have stepped out to socialize or gone backward even though he was full of skill and knowledge. For instance, even when he is offered help for shelter, love, and given food in prison, his life still leads to death and destruction due to the fear of change.

Works Cited

Melville, Herman. Bartleby, the Scrivener. Lightning Source, 2011, Web.

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