Bartleby the Scrivener

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Angelica Rodriguez
ENC1102 TH 12:40pm

An Existential Death

The short story “Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville is a complex piece of literature about a lawyer on Wall Street and his unusual copyists. The oddest employee is one by the name of Bartleby who bewilders his coworkers by his refusal to work. The lawyer who is consistently empathetic towards him tries to fire him, but Bartleby refuses to leave the office although he is not producing any labor. It is through his refusal to work and to give no rational reason for doing so other than he would “prefer not to”, that the entire story takes form into Bartleby’s absurdity better defined by an existentialist as the end stage to the pursuit of happiness. After going through the process of consciousness, experiencing a crisis and asking the question that ultimately ends in absurdity and happiness Bartleby can accept the universe as unexplainable and choose his place in it. Bartleby becomes conscious of the world and its brutality when he is fired from the Dead Letter Office to which he was a dedicated employee as a subordinate clerk. He used to handle letters that never made it to their destination “...a ring: - the finger it was meant for...a banknote sent in swiftest charity: he whom it would relieve, nor eats nor hungers anymore” while leaving people waiting for something they would never receive. Upon acceptance of the world as a cruel place where tragedy and disappointments are guaranteed; where he had been fired for no reason other than new management, his crisis was born. At the beginning of his new job as a scrivener and in the midst of his existential crisis Bartleby “...ran a day and night line, copying by sunlight and by candlelight. I would have been quite delighted...had he been cheerfully industrious". His acceptance of the world and not wanting to be a part of it ended in his demise.
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