There are certain social codes that we are expected to follow. They are too numerous and obscure to know-but for the most part, they don't need to be known. The unspoken, unwritten set of rules we are obligated to live by are subtly imbued in us from birth. When we live outside those boundaries and follow our own desires, we are walking on thin ice. An eccentric choice in wardrobe or unusual habits can make the difference between being considered an individual who "thinks outside of the box," or just a plain old lunatic. When someone refuses to adhere to our social codes, they become suspect. But what drives them, enables them to refuse in the first place?
Melville seemed to have a good idea of what it feels like to be in such a position. The American Tradition in Literature discusses how "like Bartleby, Melville was a 'scrivener,' or writer. Melville also refused to copy out the ideas of others, or even his own, in response to popular demand. He too 'preferred' to withdraw"(Perkins 1564). So far it sounds like Melville was almost certainly creating something "out of himself." Additionally, Melville "distrusted the economic compulsion of society; he resented the financial assistance of his wife's father"(1564). This story comes from an artist reliant on only himself, true to his own nature.
Bartleby is merely an exaggeration of this individual way of thinking. Melville presents a distorted image of independence from civil constraint, one that goes so far that it results in a sort of social anarchy. But considering the scrivener's background, it isn't hard to understand how he came to be such a social miscreant.
Bartleby comes to his employer from a dead l...
... middle of paper ...
...o the boss every once in a while-or to our spouse, our family, people on the street. No, you can't cut into my lane. No, you can't check out ahead of me even though you've only got the one can of beans. No, you can't change the channel, or ask me to pick the children up from practice.
How easy to give up. How easy to let the responsibilities rest with another. We already know what rewards the other men have received for their admirable and semi-socially acceptable behavior. Neurosis, alcoholism, ulcers, and envy. All things considered, it seems that Bartleby is the most sound of them all.
Perkins, Barbara, and George Perkins, ed. The American Tradition in Literature. Boston:McGraw-Hill College, 1999.
Perry, Dennis R. "'Ah, humanity': Compulsion Neurosis in Melville's 'Bartleby'". Studies in Short Fiction 24.4 (1987): 407-415.
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