Dehumanization in a Capitalist Society
In Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” the lawyer who goes unnamed throughout the short story tells a tale of four employees, Bartleby being one of them. In the beginning of the story, Bartleby starts working tirelessly until he begins to ignore the lawyer’s working demands and then finally decides not to work at all. Although this can appear to be meaningless and may not extract sympathy for Bartleby, Melville uses Bartleby to represent the lower class workers in a divided class society and shows how workers like Bartleby are viewed. Melville’s readers can argue that working in a capitalist society can cause dehumanization of the employees due to the fact that the higher class views them as a working tool instead of human beings. Although they are being paid for their work, Melville argues that the higher class, represented by the lawyer, takes advantage of its employees. Melville describes the work of a scrivener through the lawyer as he says that “it is a dull, wearisome, and lethargic affair… to some sanguine temperaments, it would be altogether intolerable” (1489). Here Melville demonstrates that even the employer knows that his employees’ work is insufferable. Melville argues that humans should not be compelled to hours of dull jobs such as the ones Bartleby, Turkey, Nippers and Ginger Nut have. Melville not only talks about the work the scriveners do but also about the muggy, inhumane work environment. Melville explains where the lawyer’s office is located and that the only thing the workers can see out of the window is walls. The lawyer admits that “this view might have been considered… deficient in what landscape painters call ‘life’” (Melville 1484). The walls create a stifling mood for the scriveners that does not allow them to have a view of the real world outside the workplace. David Kuebrich describes the Wall Street setting as he discusses the “symbolic function of the story’s omnipresent physical...
Cited: Kanner, Allen D. “The Cynical Psychology of Capitalism.” Tikkun 24.2 (2009): 45-46. Literature Resource Center. Web. 3 Apr. 2013.
Kuebrich, David. “Melville’s Doctrine of Assumptions: The Hidden Ideology of Capitalist Production in Bartleby.” The New England Quarterly 69.3 (1996): 381-405. JSTOR. Web. 2 Apr. 2013.
Melville, Herman. “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature:1820-1865. 8th ed. Vol. B. Ed. Nina Baym and Robert S. Lavine. New York: W. W. Norton, 2012. 1483- 509. Print.
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