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 Post subject: Bartleby puzzle
PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2006 7:56 pm 
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I have read Melville's Bartleby quite a few times and have never figured it all out... I have read a bunch of criticism. Some say Bartleby was representative of the worker of the time, yada, yada, yada. It just seemed to be a fabulous story for a lot of reasons... the psychology of the lawyer's reactions, the sheer surprise of how Bartleby acted. But I just don't understand completely what Bartleby was meant to be. Why the ending where he died curled up in fetal position? Why did we never know anything about him except that weird little rumor at the end?
Any ideas anyone??????


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2006 11:15 pm 
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i actually just finished writing a big analytical essay on bartleby. i love it. i see it as, among other things, explaining the nature of isolation. bart is perhaps one of the most isolated in all of literature. i feel this is because of the bleak environment of wall street, and corporate america as a whole. lack of meaningful human contact breeds isolation. melville's big on characterization, so in looking at the other characters, one can see where bart's isolation comes from...

ginger nut shows how bartleby might have once been a similarly energetic kid. there is a recurring image in the story of bartleby as being something you can change into.

turkey and nippers display the adverse affects of stress and how that causes one to become distant from others. turkey's stress manifests itself in a psychological ailment, while nippers' is physical. but both become quite irritable when falling victim to their respective illnesses. this suggests that the stress brought on by corporate america pushes others away.

the narrator tries but simply cannot connect with bart. this is because he cannot help but view the world through money. the green screen he puts up in his office represents the filter of money through which he views the world, and, until later on in the story, he attempts to help bart by giving him money.

that's my interpretation. spark any ideas?

-j


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2006 5:37 pm 
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Do you think there was ever a point in the story that the narrator could have in some way affected Bart? Bart seemed so already socially out of tune that nothing could have changed him. The narrator does offer to take him home in the story, but Bartleby refuses. Turkey and Nippers are clear characters... So does Bartleby like the isolation?He never seems happy or sad... just there. I don't get the end at tall... dying in fetal position, alone. Why???? Thoughts on these? I will reread it again this week to see if I have any new ideas. Have you read Gogol? Does it remind you of the Overcoat?


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 16, 2006 10:20 am 
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i think that by the time bart started working in the office, he was isolated, and there was nothing anyone could have done. it was more a product of society. i do however think that the narrator could have done more, and if he had, then who knows where bartleby would have ended up in the end. the narrator's only attempts to help bart involve him giving the scrivener money, which drives all human interaction in capitalist societies. when he can't rid the office of bartleby, he moves and leaves him there.

after all, it is established from the very first page of the story that the lawyer avoids confrontation and seeks the "easiest way." when he tries to confront turkey about his drinking, turkey simply ignores his boss, and the lawyer accepts it. and in bart's case, what better way to avoid interacting with him then by moving away from him? after abandoning bart, the narrator does offer his house, but at this point his lack of compassion is already established. it's pretty much just an empty gesture.

i think it is important to note that bartleby has no emotion. he is just there, and that is a product of the isolation. i mean, if you had to pin an emotion on bart, the guy's gotta be pretty depressed. but otherwise, yeah, he does just kind of exist, and, through this, one can easily analyze the story through an existential lens.

as far as bartleby's death goes, i saw it as being a moment of great solace. he lies down on the grass (the only mention of nature in the story... interesting) in the sun, gives himself a nice big hug (perhaps because no one else would), and peacefully dies after a lifetime of isolation and misery, of the cold and sterile environment of corporate america.

and it's interesting that you bring up gogol. for my class, we had to read both stories at the same time. to be honest, i never actually read "the overcoat," because i am a slacker. but from what i drew from class discussion, they're essentially the same story.

-j


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 16, 2006 5:53 pm 
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I have to admit, I am a slacker too. I was supposed to have read Gogol a few times, but read part of it (or maybe the whole thing, I didn't care for the story much) maybe once. Thanks for letting me know that you read them together. It means I am somewhat on target when it comes to literature.

Now that you mention it, the weakness of the narrator is something I tried to reconcile too. Actually, being a person who for a long time did not like confrontation, I kind of understood where he was coming from :)

I remember one scene when Bartleby is sitting at his desk, and doesn't some light shine down on him from between the brick wall and the window somehow?? Any thoughts on that????

I know I am beating a dead horse, but this story has plagued me.


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