Bartleby the Scrivener

Displacement By Society

"Strangely huddled at the base of the wall, his knees drawn up, and lying on his side, his head touching the cold stones, I saw the wasted Bartleby. I felt his hand, when a tingling shiver ran up my arm and down my spine to my feet" (1173).

Bartelby the Scrivener died of sadness, feeling trapped and utterly without place in the mechanized society that had sprouted around him. He fell victim to his own desire to resist the mindless adaptation that characters like the narrator achieved so seamlessly. Bartleby's death plainly points to Melville's disgruntled view of the modern world; a world where strength comes from weakness and pliability, and where the naturally weak overpower the strong. To define Bartleby the Scrivener in such simple terms, however, is to ignore some important, specific themes that Melville cleverly allegorizes with the characters in the story. To Melville, the modern authoritarian society so minutely divides a person's responsibilities, it reduces the scope of his ability to interact with himself, nature, and his community. This belief closely follows that of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who judged modern mechanized society to be the downfall of humanity because it rendered individuals numb to...

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