22 Following



Currently reading

The Stand
Stephen King
David McCullough
Bartleby, the Scrivener - Herman Melville This is the first Melville short story, and the second piece of writing of his (the first being [b:Moby-Dick|153747|Moby-Dick|Herman Melville|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51W7kLLYBHL._SL75_.jpg|2409320]) that I've read. I loved "Moby-Dick," and "Bartleby" did not disappoint my rather grand expectations. While reading it, I was very conscience--perhaps overly so--about what I might take away from it when I finished. After having completed it, I thought about it for a while, and after that, looked at others' interpretations to see if there was great coincidence between them all. There were certainly some interpretations that were closely aligned with my own, and others that were quite novel to me--especially the psychoanalytic "double" theory; probably wouldn't have come up with that one, not being much of a psychoanalyst myself.


The hallmark of a truly good work, in my opinion, is its lack of forcefulness in regards to its "message," an allowance for multiple, and even conflicting, interpretations. If this be so, then "Bartleby" ranks among those laudable opera. I say this because I know that I found Bartleby both a sympathetic character, as well as a vexing one, at various times throughout the story. One could just as easily extol Bartleby's Christ-like self-sacrifice as they could denounce his stubborn apathy. One could read "Bartleby" as an indictment of mankind's proclivity to value social standing, professional efficiency, and profit over human life. You could justify this by the narrator's own words, when he admits he could no longer let Bartleby hang around him anymore, because it was embarrassing him in front of clients and colleagues that stopped by the office. He had pretty much accepted Bartleby's loitering up until the point that outsiders began to see him; then it became unacceptable. And this feeling of shame in the eyes of these colleagues was what drove the lawyer to relocate, an action that precipitated Bartleby's demise.

However, it would be just as easy to argue against this stance. You could say that Bartleby was stubborn and unwilling to accept the help that was offered to him. As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. You can say that Bartleby was a romantic, an idealist, who became disillusioned with life when he finally got a glimpse of the absurdity and fragility of it all, but in the end, don't we all know that deep inside? Yet the majority of people are able to overcome these morbid thoughts and persevere, to continue on to rise each morning, fortify themselves with food and drink, to work for pay or for sustenance, and to carry on social relations with their neighbors. In this sense, Bartleby is too emotionally weak for the world, unable to motivate himself to continue on into the frightening unknown that is life.

Both interpretations can be followed to their own conclusions, as they so fit into our own lives, none which need or even should be uttered explicitly. One is an interpretation more sympathetic to Bartleby, the other to the narrator. Thankfully, or perhaps unfortunately, for me, there's a constant dialectic occurring inside my head, and I can therefore hold both (or perhaps neither of) these interpretations simultaneously. I think the truth, at least for my own existence, lies somewhere in between.