Bartleby The Scrivener Moral Analysis

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Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener presents the reader with a strange, heavily detailed, and undeniably thought-provoking story of a relationship between two men that hold their values in very different places. The narrator of the story, an unnamed lawyer, is “a rather elderly man” who manages a legal copywriting office on Wall Street. The lawyer’s treatment of his employees, his long-standing mantra that, “the easiest way of life is best,” (3) and his demand and respect for good work are indicative of his purely utilitarian ideology. However, this firm set of values is challenged by a newly hired copywriter, Bartleby, who decides that he would “prefer not” to work after being employed at the office for a few weeks. Bartleby’s firm…show more content…
Additionally, the lawyer’s fastidiousness in his own values throughout his ordeal with Bartleby gives rise to the notion that they are not just his own values, but representative of the values of the whole of capitalist…show more content…
After understanding that Bartleby has “given up copying,” the lawyer describes that, “In plain fact, he had now become a millstone to me, not only useless as a necklace, but afflictive to bear. Yet I was sorry for him” (21). This statement is a turning point in their relationship that begins the lawyer’s adamant denial of Bartleby’s baseless passivity. But what is the source of the lawyer’s pity? In short, his own beliefs. His understandings of work, achievement, self-worth and desire are vastly different from Bartleby’s, but he fails to realize this. He only understands his own “easiest way of life.” Is Bartleby’s radical passivity not making his life harder? If he does no work, he will receive no reward! If he has no goals, he is devoid of purpose, and without purpose, there is nothing! These statements are blinded by a capitalist bias, the same bias that blinds the lawyer. In reality, Bartleby seems to have found “the easiest way,” the way devoid of wants and needs. Without needs, he requires no reward to satiate them. Without goals, he has already achieved all his desires. But, because he has removed himself from the working machine, the value that the lawyer previously bestowed upon him has dissipated. Because the lawyer knows that he himself would never wish to be devalued as such, he instinctively begins reasoning as

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