Comparing Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Herman Melville's Bartleby, The Scrivener

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When we examine the excerpt by Ralph Ellison, “Invisible Man” and the story “Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” by Herman Melville we see how they both explore isolation, but in different ways. Similarly, they are both solitary characters where Bartleby seems to choose this situation; the Invisible Man has this status thrust on him by society. Where the Invisible Man seems to go from violence to acceptance, the opposite holds true for Bartleby. Their experience and perception of the world though different, seemed to shape them both into solitary figures. We see how the Invisible man was motivated by his circumstance and consciously chooses to use this for his benefit, while Bartleby unconsciously used his situation to his advantage before he succumbs to the pressure of life. Once The Invisible Man accepted his fate he chose life, while Bartleby on the other hand chose death.

The most significant aspect touched upon in the both essays is isolation, but they differ in how each character deals with the issue. The isolation of the main character In Bartleby is revealed in his refusal to fulfill the routine work. Bartleby’s stated response to his employer’s request to do work was usually, “I prefer not to” (Melville, p302) Time and time again, Bartleby uttered those words without repercussion. His employer seemed unable to do anything. “But there was something about Bartleby that not only strangely disarmed me, but in a wonderful manner, touched and disconcerted me. I began to reason with him”. (Melville, p 303) Bartleby chose at every turn to seclude himself from society and life in general. Throughout the essay, we see first, Bartleby's unwavering preoccupation with his employment, followed by his decision ...

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...characters in solitude, yet different in how they adjusted to their situation. Where the Invisible Man, “did not become alive until I discovered my invisibility” (Ellison, p 198), Bartleby gave into his isolation. The Invisible Man was able to discover his identity by experiencing certain endeavors and overcoming them, while it seems Bartleby was unable to escape his past. For Bartleby the whole life seems to be a strained process full of purposeless tasks that he denies to perform. He does not enjoy life fully, but perceives it like real death.

Carattini 4

Works Cited

Ellison, Ralph “Invisible Man” The Places Where We Dwell Reading and Writing About New York City. Juanita But, Mark Noonan. Dubuque, Iowa. Kendall/Hunt Publishing 2007, P 196-199

Melville, Herman “Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” ibid. P 299-313

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