Bartleby the Scrivener

Societal Intolerance of Depression in “Bartleby, The Scrivener” College

Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street” presents the mentally troubled title character through the perspective of an ignorant narrator. Having only encountered visible, physical disabilities before, the narrator does not know how to respond to a man with depression. Driven mad by Bartleby’s preferred phrase, “I would prefer not to” (Melville 8), the narrator fails to recognize this phrase as what Mitchell and Snyder’s Narrative Prosthesis could label as a subconscious cry for help, and instead tries half-hearted attempts at curing Bartleby. When these fail, the narrator fluctuates between pity and intolerance, never truly understanding Bartleby’s condition, and only accommodating him when believing him to have a physical disability. The inability of the narrator to empathize with Bartleby’s invisible disability and desire to instantly cure him presents a critique on society’s ignorance of depression and response to mental impairments.

Melville initially presents his narrator as an elderly man who sympathizes with his physically disabled employees. His copyists Nippers and Turkey both suffer from extremely visible disorders which occasionally hinder their productivity. Turkey, an elderly man like the...

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