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Mona Recinos

Updated April 24, 2020

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Mona Recinos essay

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12/18/03 Bartleby Essay “Ah Bartleby, Ah Humanity!” This is the key to the short story by Herman Melville “Bartleby”, because it indicates that the image of Bartleby stands as a symbol for humanity on a universal level.

This story is appealing for its symbolism. This, in turn, functions as a commentary on society and the working world. Bartleby is a seemingly homeless, mentally disturbed scrivener who gives up on the prospect of living life and alienates himself from it. Bartleby embodies many “conflicts” of humanity such as mortality, alienation, and man’s desire for peace. With these characteristics, the last line of this short story is very significant. As one of the “conflicts” embodied by Bartleby, mortality plays an unusual role.

Death pervades in the story but not as the end of somebody’s life, but as a kind of living death. The act of living is the real death for Bartleby. Life to this strange and mysterious man seems full of meaningless tasks and hard times that he prefers not to take apart in. As said in the story, “…happiness courts the light, so we deem the world is gay; but misery hides aloof, so we deem that misery there is none,” society tends to take in the happy light and block the misery. No one realizes that Bartleby is miserable in his own skin, even the narrator seems to un-notice his sadness. The only means of protection that Bartleby had against the world is to alienate himself from it.

While working as a scrivener, he began to alienate himself from his coworkers. He cut off all communication from them only responding to their questions and comments with “I would prefer not to.” He did not socialize with anyone; he stayed confined in his little corner on Wall Street, seemingly perfectly content with being alone. When Bartleby is sent to prison, even then he separates himself from the rest of the prisoners and workers. There in this “tomb” Bartleby dies alone, alienated from society, and humanity.

The last conflict embodied in Bartleby, is the want of peace. Both the narrator of this story and Bartleby demonstrated many calm reactions to rude and disrespectful comments. Their characters were tested when Bartleby refused to work, refused to eave the building, and even the refusal of answering simple questions. Both men kept cool and relaxed during very tense discussions about these topics. The narrator described the fact that he wanted to keep the peace between them, and therefor never lashed out.

This decision of his eventually ended Bartleby in prison and dead. Humanity is defined in the dictionary as the human race. The last line in Melville’s story reads “Ah Bartleby! Ah Humanity!” This symbolizes the UN happiness he felt towards the human race. He felt that it was their fault that Bartleby was dead, and it was there fault that all Bartleby’s in the world live and act the way they o.

I believe That many people are nave to think that the world is a never ending happy place. The world will probably never be fully happy because although you may be able to fix the appearance of someone’s living environment, and appearance, the wounds of the soul are forever going to be there. “I might give (charity) to his body, but his body did not pain him: it was his soul that suffered, and his soul I could not reach.”

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Mona Recinos. (2019, Apr 16). Retrieved from