Why Bartleby Cannot Be Reached

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Why Bartleby Cannot Be Reached

While Herman Melville’s lawyer in "Bartleby, the Scrivener" appears to have undergone a significant change in character by the story’s completion, the fact remains that the story is told through (the lawyer’s) first-person point-of-view. This choice of narration allows the lawyer not only to mislead the reader, but also to color himself as lawful and just. In the lawyer’s estimate, the reader is to view him as having not only made an effort to "save" Bartleby, but as a man who has himself changed for the good, ethically speaking. What the lawyer fails to acknowledge in his retelling of events is his inability to communicate with Bartleby not because of Bartleby’s shortcomings, but because of his own. The lawyer’s perception of "man" is tainted, for he does not view people as individuals, but as tools -- as possessing a usefulness and/or function. He is not attempting to reach the soul of a man; rather, he is attempting to exploit the use of a machine.

In order to illustrate Melville’s emphasis on failed communication, he created Bartleby as a scrivener, or copier, an occupation that blatantly suggests the possession of machine-like qualities. A scrivener’s purpose, more or less, is to act as a human version of the modern-day Xerox machine. For an individual to purposely choose a profession such as this one would say a great deal about said individual. He would, more likely than not, be both mundane and dutiful. His vision would be small, and his goals, perhaps, nonexistent. The lawyer wants, and employs, men who fit this description -- men like Turkey and Nippers. He describes Turkey as "a most valuable person to me, . . . the quickest, steadiest creature too, accomplishing a great deal of ...

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...n himself and the lawyer, a fact that the lawyer is oblivious to. In spite of his late efforts to resurrect Bartleby, so to speak – to mend the suffering and break down the self-created walls that exist between himself and the scrivener (and all of humankind, for that matter) – Bartleby’s demise is inevitable. The lawyer has already proven his inability to communicate with anything human, and when he wants a chance to rectify the situation, it is too late. Look at, then, his final words on the subject: "Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!" (2427) Here the lawyer condemns the irony of the dehumanized society that he himself is not only a part of, but, early on in the story, admittedly searching for. After all, it was he who so cherished Bartleby’s machine-like functions, and he who now fails to realize the tragedy of the situation, despite his seemingly profound exclamation.

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