Bartleby the Scrivener

The Struggle Between Individuality and Conformity in Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener" 11th Grade

In Lois Lowry’s award winning novel “The Giver,” the main character, Jonas, wonders incredulously, “How could someone not fit in? The community was so meticulously ordered, the choices so carefully made” (Lowry 48). Jonas is referring to the community in which he lives, a controlled society void of fear, pain, and burden. Conformity ensures security, yet, as Jonas will discover, it condemns individual thought and expression. This theme is resonant also in the short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” Here, Herman Melville examines man’s struggle to maintain individual identity in a world that demands conformity.

When the story commences, the narrator, who presents himself as a man close to sixty and a lawyer of thirty years, basks in the comforts and securities provided by his conventional lifestyle. The tone is complacent as he celebrates the fact that he is an “eminently safe man” (Melville 85). Rejecting the dangers and uncertainties that come with ambition, the narrator confides, “I am one of those unambitious lawyers who never address a jury, or in any way draw down public applause; but, in the cool tranquility of a snug retreat, do a snug business among rich men’s bonds, and mortgages, and title deeds” (85). The lawyer favors...

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