.. used to change his message despite the consequences..” (SS for S pg. 1) Critic Mark Elliot, while writing an overview critique of Bartelby the Scrivener, wrote these words in an attempt to justify why he believes that the character Bartelby could represent the author Melville. When reading Elliots words, I cannot help but see the direct connection. Like Melville, Bartelby served as a sort of an outcast due to his methods and resistance to change.
Bartelby was seen as an outcast, not only by the narrator, but by the fictive society set in the story. Like Melville who was described as a common sailor, Bartelby was also seen as aimless in his approach. Last, but not least, Bartelby, much like his creator, refused to change his message (in Bartelbys case his response “I prefer not to..”) regardless of the consequences. Melville was one to stand firm and unmoved from his style of writing. His writing style was challenged by many, just as Bartelbys disposition was challenged by the society surrounding him. Melvilles attitude is directly conveyed through his character Bartelby in the story, Bartelby the Scrivener.
Like the critics before me, I also have several standpoints on the story Bartelby the Scrivener. I believe that this literary work has two very distinct lessons. It is a lesson about family, as well as a lesson about power. Bartelby the Scrivener as a Lesson About Family There are many different parts of this story that convey to the audience that family is a direct subject. First and foremost is the concern and thorough understanding that the narrator has about his employees.
It is almost as if the narrator studies their every action and disposition as if he were a father observing his children. In the story, Melville writes: ” I had two persons as copyists in my employment, and a promising lad as an office-boy. First, Turkey; second, Nippers; third, Ginger Nut. These may seem names, the like of which are not usually found in the Directory. In truth they were nicknames, mutually conferred upon each other by my three clerks, and were deemed expressive of their respective persons or characters.” (Meyer pg.
114) The narrator gave his employees nicknames, which is something often done within a family in order to give each child a sense of individuality due the their respective actions. In this story, like in a family, these names have completely replaced their birthnames regardless of age or issue. Another thing that can be found as interesting in this story that relates to family is Melvilles choice to place the characters in a business setting. Businesses are often referred to as a family affair. It is not uncommon to hear an employer say that, “In this business we are a family”, or “We must work together as a family to make this business work”. I dont think that Melvilles choice of setting was merely coincidental.
While remaining on the topic of family, it is not to far-fetched to believe that the addition of Bartelby to the story can be seen as adopting a child into the family. Like many adoptions, the narrator knew not an extensive history of Bartelbys background. He knew only that he wanted to add him to the family. He made an appropriate space for him; went well out of his way to provide for and nurture him as he did his other “children”. The “father” was even there at the advent of his death to see him off to peace. Like a family they had disagreements and power struggles, which like any family, causes difficulties.
So conclusively, family can be seen as a very strong theme in this story. Bartelby the Scrivener as a Lesson About Power Power played a very strong role in this literary work. The power that I am referring to is not a physical power, but more a power through words. In mentioning this, I refer to the power that Bartelby has over those surrounding him. His use of verbal and non-verbal communication was used masterfully.
In fact, he played them like an instrument having mellow tones, but evoking emotions in those around him. Verbally, had had only to use the words, “I prefer not to..” and he had not only confused any number of individuals, but also angered and humbled them at the same time. The narrator mentioned quite often his numerous changes of emotions due to the utterance of those four simple words. One quote that explained the narrators disposition is as followed: “Nothing so aggravates an earnest person as a passive resistance”. (Meyer pg.120) Even Turkey, who was described as not having any cares after twelve meridian, was riled up enough to blacken Bartelbys eyes after hearing those few simple words.
His use of verbal communication was to be admired; however, I feel that his use of non-verbal communication was in complete competition. Bartelbys use of non-verbal communication didnt present itself as a physical movement or some extravagant action. It merely presented itself as silence. This silence spoke for itself at times. It infuriated the narrator so much that he himself has questioned whether or not he should address it at times; possibly even trying some non-verbal communication of his own. An example of this in the story is written as followed: “”Bartleby!” No answer.
“Bartleby,” in a louder tone. No answer. “Bartleby,” I roared. Like a very ghost, agreeably to the laws of magical invocation, at the third summons, he appeared at the entrance of his hermitage.”- “Shall I acknowledge it? The conclusion of this whole business was, that it soon became a fixed fact of my chambers, that a pale young scrivener, by the name of Bartleby.” (Meyer pg. 122) The narrator uses, “Shall I acknowledge it?” as a question as to whether he should use his own form of non-verbal communication just as Bartelby had been using on him.
I believe that power through communication, verbal and non-verbal, can easily be digested by an audience as a possible theme of the story. In conclusion, Bartelby the Scrivener, can easily be interpreted in many different ways. Some of these approaches have been mentioned; however, as a member of Melvilles audience, I cannot limit myself to just these theories. Countless other theories can be formed on the actual theme of the story. I truly believe that Melville had those intentions, not only for this story, but also for all the stories that he has written. Literary works are meant to be examined and interpreted by the individual reading it. Authors produce the material. All we are required to do is produce the imagination and personal understanding of what has been presented before us.
Bibliography 1.) College English, Vol. 23, No.5, February, 1962, pp.365‐68 2.) Indian Journal of American Studies, Vol.4, Nos. 1-2, June and December, 1974. Pp.66-71. 3.) Meyer, Michael The Bedford Introduction to Literature, Library of Congress Catalog Number: 98-85194, copyright 1999 by Bedford/St.
Martin. 3.) Reference Guide to Short Fiction, 1st ed., edited by Noelle Watson, St. James Press, 1994 4.) Short Stories for Students, Gale Research, 1997 Key: (as cited in the paper) (IJ of AS) Indian Journal of American Studies (BI to L) The Bedford Introduction to Literature (RG to SF) Reference Guide to Short Fiction (SS for S) Short Stories for Students.