Bartleby, the Scrivener: the Dehumanization of Workers

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“Bartleby, the Scrivener” forces readers to consider the numbing effects of capitalism upon a worker’s mind. Although American capitalism, democracy, and individualism are often seen to be mutually reinforcing the economic, political, and philosophical pillars of American society, Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener” suggests that capitalism can dehumanize workers and that its stability relies upon the illusion that it is an inevitable, inhuman system. “Bartleby, the Scrivener” implies that this system of social and economic relations is ironically threatened by human desire, choice, and preference, the very attributes that seems to shape our individual identities. As such, the primary guardian of capitalist values, in the novella, is the narrator who represses human desire, choice, and preference to ensure the smooth operation of his law office. In Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” he argues that work in a capitalist society dehumanizes its employees because the upper class regards them as working tools instead of as people. One way Melville shows the dehumanization of workers is through the lawyer’s introduction of his three initial employees. In this introduction, the lawyer describes how he sees his workers, which mainly consists of how useful they are to him at certain times. For example, he explains how one of his scriveners, named Turkey, [was] a most valuable person to [him]” in the morning, “accomplishing a great deal of work in a style not easy to be matched” (Melville 8). In the afternoons, however, he considered Turkey to be quite impudent because he was not as productive with his work. In fact, the lawyer even suggested that “[Turkey] need not come to [his] chambers after twelve o clock, but best go home to his lodgings and rest himself till tea time (Melville 8). Similarly, the lawyer describes Nippers (one of the other scriveners who work for him) as suffering from the evils of ambition and indigestion and as a person who “knew not what he...
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