Bartleby the Scrivener

A Human Tragedy Within the Walls of Commerce College

Mordechai Anielewicz once asserted, “The most difficult struggle of all is the one within ourselves. Let us not get accustomed and adjusted to these conditions. The one who adjusts ceases to discriminate between good and evil: he becomes a slave in body and soul.” In the short story “Bartleby the Scrivener,” Herman Melville explores the notion of this internal human struggle through Bartleby and his elusive interactions, or lack thereof, with the other characters in a corporate setting. Through his use of explicit detail and descriptive rhetoric, Melville reveals a reflection of the working class and portrays an overwhelmingly negative perspective of the role of commerce in society. More specifically, Melville depicts cultural messages of the mechanization, dehumanization, and repetition of employment in Industrial America, ultimately suggesting a dichotomy between the upper hierarchy of commerce and those in the working class subject to the long, arduous work as human copy machines. The resulting human tragedy ensues from Bartleby's inability or unwillingness to articulate the reasons for his rebellion, ultimately leading to his alienation from the society.

In a capitalist society where a man does his work, earns his pay,...

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