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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Discussion #4 or the hardest read I've had thus far...

Well, I had to wait two days to see how my last analysis of  "Bartleby the Scrivener" was going to be grade and this was (sad to admit,) my most anguising wait yet for any grade so far this year... I had to read "Bartleby the Scrivener" 5 times and still agonized over if I was getting the point to the whole theme. I spent 5 hours on Saturday morning trying to get the paragraphs right, even though I had spent all week long reading and writing and taking notes. I just couldn't for the life of me, get my words out.  So, to my surprise- today when our grades came out, I was so happy to see what my Professor put. Yes, I have something to learn and I am up to the challenge of relearning the proper way of doing MLA citations for references. I mean isn't this what I am going to school for to better myself?  I Think that Melville is so hard to read for me, even more than lets say Hawthorne who I struggled with when I first read his works other than The Scarlet Letter (which was not hard for me and I read in  6th grade.) I tried reading Moby Dick once and couldn't get past the first chapter so gave up on it, thinking that "well, this story is for boys anyway." I guess I better read Moby Dick again since it is a classic...
I did ask my professor in an email to help me with what was wrong with the citations. :-)

I guess it is good that I have some kind of reading that challenges me or what would be the point of educational reading?

Here are the instructions and questions we were supposed to answer:
Write a one paragraph character analysis of Bartleby and a one paragraph analysis of the first person narrator. Is the narrator reliable? Why or why not? What is Bartleby’s problem? Symbolically speaking, what does Bartleby reject? Consider Melville’s term “monomaniacal”; how might it relate to the novella’s characters and/or conflict? Consider Melville’s biography, including the fact that he lived and worked in a Customs House in New York City for 30 years after leaving Arrowhead Farm in 1862. NYC was becoming the financial heart of America’s economy and the area of Wall Street beginning to become prominent as New York City’s center of stocks, bonds, and business. How might any of those facts apply to Melville’s story? What does Melville intend with this story?





To Be or Not to be Personally Involved
 
 
Brower, Sandra
2
 
 
The antagonist “Bartleby the Scrivener” was a “pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, incurably forlorn…” quiet gentleman who came to work for the protagonist, a lawyer who is also the first person narrator. Bartleby was a perfect employee until he was asked to help in going over his work, where he calmly stated “I would prefer not to,” curiously an unusual response from an employee to a boss. The boss inquired as to why and not getting a satisfactory answer he decided not to push the issue further and went on his way.  Bartleby continues to “copy” well until he is asked again to help review his work, this time with his fellow employees, to this he replies the same as before.  This time, however, his boss blows up and gets the other employees involved, and yet doesn’t fire Bartleby. After this Bartleby slowly stops writing his copies and “prefers not to” do any work at all. I can only fathom that by this time Bartleby is frustrated with his boss, who he might believe is asking more of him than what he was hired to do. It’s as if Bartleby is protesting by saying, “I am working so what is the problem? But since you want more I will now stop doing anything at all.” Anybody in Bartleby’s situation might not be able to work in the conditions he did; Four walls, 2 of which were temporary and dull in color while the other a low-light producing window staring at a black brick wall from the building located not more than 10 feet away. I envision this looking like the modern day small, drearily-cold cubical which was abundant in my father’s business. Even though he might have preferred it, Bartleby has no interaction with the other employees except for seconds with “Ginger Nut” who brings him a few nuts each day, and of course the interaction with his boss. Who can be happy being isolated like this? My dad worked on Wall Street, and having lived in New York I know a little bit about the isolation that one can have by spending time within the buildings there. I was recently in N.Y.C. and can give you a semi feeling of what it would be like with the adjacent building right near you.
 The boss decides to quit his address.  When Bartleby refuses to leave the office after it is found out that he has been living in there since he was hired.  It wasn’t uncommon for him to make the Lawyer’s clients and peers uneasy which threatened his employer’s career. Bartleby continues to live in the office even after a new tenant moves in. He is unable to be talked out of leaving even after his old boss warns him that something drastic could happen. He ends up being taken to prison where he refuses to eat and dies an even more lonely man. The reader doesn’t know anything about this young man’s previous life until the very end of the story where we are informed unreliably that he might have worked in the “dead letter office,” in Washington.  
The elderly “unambitious lawyer,” who is also the protagonist first person Narrator, seems to hire unusually quirky men to work for him. He describes himself as “a man who, from his youth upward, has been filled with a profound conviction that the easiest way of life is the best.” I personally believe that he hired these types of men where as other employers might not have, because he was a kind hearted man.  Ironically, he doesn’t do the easiest way when he gets involved in Bartleby’s quirks.  Why does he do this with Bartleby when doesn’t do this with his other employees?  He just lets their eccentricities be when they were at their worst and maybe this would have been the thing to do with Bartleby.  While the Narrator tells Bartleby’s story he seems to come off monomaniacal when it comes to what Bartleby is doing. Would he have been so focused on him if he had let Bartleby work where the other employees worked? I don’t think he wouldn’t have--he would have just fired Bartleby after refusing to do the rest of his work.  During the time of Herman Melville’s living and working in New York, (as it was with my dad’s time, the employer relationship with employees would probably have been the same); an employer expected his employees to do their job, not wanting to get involved personally with them and have them come and go in an orderly manner each day. The narrator goes beyond the norm when it comes to Bartleby and in the end while Bartleby’s life expires, his life become more enriched by having cared.
I think this story is a direct expression of Melville’s working in the Custom House on Wall Street. He traveled the seas, he lived on a farm in the wide open and as his career was dying down he lives in a “silent period,”[1]where he isolates himself to a four walled room in the biggest city in America just like Bartleby. Ironically like the 2 eccentric characters of “Turkey” and “Nippy,” Hawthorne and Melville are the flipside of each other’s lives; where Hawthorne’s career is building Melville’s is waning.[2] Does Melville try to tell the reader that corporate life is dreary, deadening and heartless and that the employer has all the control? Or is he trying to get the reader to think about how we choose to interact with others no matter where they live, what their background and whether they “prefer not to” do anything with their life? Depression as Bartleby seems to have is a huge impact in Melville’s life; one of sons commits suicide, the other dies and Melville himself suffers from depression throughout his life, so all in all, this Novella is impacted directly by the author’s worldview and his biography.
*I find it interesting that Melville refers over and over again to The Narrator’s inadverntant focus on Rome- Cicero’s bust, the reference to Marius Caius and to any other government entity such as Samuel Adams. Is he saying that Rome was a great government and then fell and that is what might happen to corporate America? I am not sure but I did find it interesting…
1 Cohen, Hennig . "Herman Melville Biography." UNet Users' Home Pages. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 June 2011. .
Works cited
McMichael, George. "Melville, Bartleby, the Scrivener." Anthology of American Literature. Ninth ed. Saddl
Cohen, Hennig . "Herman Melville Biography." UNet Users' Home Pages. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 June 2011. .


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  • RE: To Be or Not to be Personally Involved
     
     
    Robison, Cassandra
    0
     
     
    Dear Sandy,
    This is a superior post that proves your ability to think critically in the highest sense.  Your questions regarding the fall of Rome as analogous to the possible fall of America is right on target. Melville had both admiration and disdain for an economy based on money, business and greed.  I love your quotes and research. (Note that a couple citations did not come out right).  Your writing was graceful and persuasive; the photo of NYC illustrates how those who work in huge buildings are "walled in" by Wall St. and the lives they lead.
    Well done! Another A for you.
    Dr. R.
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  • RE: To Be or Not to be Personally Involved
     
     
    Cole, Alisha
    1
     
     
    I agree with you, that Bartleby's character trait of depression was most likely based off of the men in Melville's family, includng Melville, himself.  Also, the offices and city life in the story of Bartleby was, indeed, surely influenced by Melville's time working at the Custom House.  Your opinions have caused me to realize that perhaps Bartleby was Melville, himself.  Perhaps that character was a manifestation of how the author was feeling at the time.  Depressed and not wanting to do anything.  Prefering not to go on with his life.  I have found that just as setting can serve as a muse, a person's feelings and their mood can provide them with just as powerful an inspiration.  Thus, perhaps, he was the character of Bartleby and what that charater's actions were, he desired to be his own.  To reject the accepted way of life and just do nothing, until his death.  But, because he felt the weight of reality and responsibility on him, he could not and thus, lived out his feelings and desires through the character of Bartleby.
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    • RE: RE: To Be or Not to be Personally Involved
       
       
      Brower, Sandra
      0
       
       
      That was very inciteful... I really didn't take it as far as making Bartleby a replication of Melville, and i find that fascinating because it gave me more to think about. yes, Muse is everything to a writer, especially when you see that most of his famous work was written about his sea travels. It's interesting to me that Melville's works after moving back to NY completely stopped being read by anyone. He was such a success, and then nothing at all... He still wrote but I think that his writing was flattened just like your spirit can be when you are surrounded by 4 walls daily for numerous hours. I wonder why he would have done had he not had a family, and Hawthorne to carry him through his life. I guess that is why having friends and loved ones make life so much more worthwhile!
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate your views and always look forward to reading them.