Bartleby the Scrivener

Melville's Descriptions of the Oppression of Workers

Imagery is perhaps the most effective way to emphasize a theme. Ironically, Herman Melville chooses to use blankness as his image of choice, and while at first glance, the lack of something may not seem to be a powerful symbol, Melville’s application of it to the common people makes it quite relevant. In “Tartarus of Maids” and “Bartleby the Scrivener,” Melville uses the recurring motif of blankness to inspire sympathy for the plight of the working class and show how their condition allows for the creative and economic survival of the wealthy.

By accentuating the pallid nature of all that composes the working class, Melville expresses the inevitable death of spirit that pervades their existence. In “Bartleby the Scrivener,” the narrator remarks on the initial work ethic of Bartleby by saying, “At first Bartleby did an extraordinary amount of writing . . . I should have been quite delighted with his application, had he been cheerfully industrious. But he wrote out silently, palely, mechanically” (Bartleby 4). The narrator sees the distinct difference between being cheerfully industrious and simply being industrious. There is no doubt that Bartleby copies a large amount of work, yet it is his attitude that troubles the narrator....

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