Suicide in Bartleby and Life in the Iron Mills
Life in the Iron Mills and Bartleby are centered on characters who are alienated laborers, looking for means through which they cannot be deprived of their humanity. Hugh Wolfe and Bartleby are both workers who have been victimized by the capitalistic system. As Karl Marx explains, the capitalistic system exploits the laborer and thus robs the laborer of his humanity through alienating the laborer. Both Wolfe and Bartleby become victims of the system, for they are not only alienated and dehumanized. But in their struggle against the system, they take their own lives. Their suicides are representative of how far alienation reached into the lives of Bartleby and Wolfe and how far each of them was willing to go in order to be self-reliant.
Bartleby joins the lawyer's office as a scrivener, after having worked for the Dead Letters Office. As explained by the lawyer, the scriveners were paid four cents a folio, and under the employment of the lawyer, the scriveners also had to run errands for the lawyer, as well as help in proof reading the copied documents. The employer did not compensate for these other tasks. Thus, it was obvious as to why "Bartleby was never on any account to be dispatched on the most trivial errand of any sort; and that even if entreated to take upon such a matter, it was generally understood that he would 'prefer not to'- in other words, that he would refuse point blank." (Melville 15). For one thing, Bartleby was not being paid for the errands, but for the writing he did. Also, this defiance is a means through which he was preserving his autonomy. Bartleby was making a decision as to what he was and was not going to do. Bartleby's employer notice...
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...us how society was changing and how the members were reacting to such changes and to the breaking down of society. The alienation of the laborer was taking place and the goal of self reliance was being pushed further away from those very people. Humanity was replaced by competition and greed. Society was not where people lived, but became a ladder that needed to be climbed.
Davis, Rebecca Harding. Ed. Cecelia Tichi. Life in the Iron Mills. Bedford Books, Boston. 1998. Pgs. 39-74
Durkheim, Emile. Trans. John A. Spaulding and George Simpson. Suicide; A Study in Sociology. The Free Press, New York. 1987. Pgs. 297-325
Emerson, Ralph, Waldo. Self Reliance and Other Essays. Dover Publications, Inc. New York. 1993. Pgs. 19-39
Melville, Herman. Bartleby and Benito Cereno. Dover Publications, Inc. New York. 1993. Pgs. 1-34