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Herman Melville presents a story of evident alienation in the society. From the story, Bartleby, the main character of the story, seems to be a pessimist and this is evident in his struggle with loneliness and despair. He constantly blames the society for his sense of isolation. The only thing he could always see in the world around was evil and nothing good. The concern that the author raises in his ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’ is that of human alienation. He seeks to explain why people are isolated from the society. Every organization has codes and every employee is required to do what is prescribed in his or her job. It is very rare to find workers to do what they desire, which is usually contrary to their job description. In this story, Bartleby refuses to work despite the motivation he receives from his boss. The narrator, who is a business lawyer, struggles to understand his employee, Bartleby, who seems to be isolated from everything and everyone. The character of Bartleby portrays an individual who imprisoned by a society, which he terms as cruel and oppressive.
The impact of isolation can be clearly seen in the character of Bartleby, who lack motivation for his work as well as dying in depression. Even though he is very reliable, he is very passive and this usurps his motivation to an extent that he keeps off from work. In the end, he refuses to share with his boss anything regarding his background. The narrator describes himself as a safe-man who takes less risk. He seems to be disturbed by the reluctance of his employee. He also feels pity for him, but he is unable to help him, since Bartleby would not open up to anyone including his boss.
The theme of isolation is also evident in the setting of the story. The office where the scrivener works is cheerless and sterile. In the corporate world, many people often resort to isolation when hard realities of life become difficult to face. The work environment is often full of pressure and some people adapt with varying degrees of success. Even though the narrator is very successful in corporate world, he seems to be a victim of progress. He works so hard to find satisfaction and prestige. Change in the modern world is inevitable. Some people respond to change by choosing to change so as to adapt to the changing environment. However, others remain rigid and coil back to their own world. A good example is Bartleby who chooses to hide under life’s frustrations. Bartley looses any bleak from the surrounding environment and therefore he decides to disengage from it, and he finally dies. The current world is full of people who are preoccupied with excellence in the corporate world, but have less concern in the personality and issues of humanity as well as motivation. The narrator is less concerned with the personal life of his employees, until Bartleby features in the scene. He shows a lot of concern just because Bartleby refuses to do everything the boss requests him to do. Many people seem to have concern for the well being of others. However, it becomes hard to help a person who is not ready to disclose his or her problems. The narrator tries to help as much as he can. But he reaches his limit in helping Bartleby and gives up until Bartleby dies in his depression.
A feeling of loneliness and low self esteem is very common in the world today. For instance, the current global menace of AIDs has driven many victims to a life of isolation and loneliness. The hospitals and medical practitioners often stress that everyone in the world should seek to know the HIV status. However, many refuse to comply and decide to live in ignorance. Some take the step and go, but upon realizing that they are HIV positive, they resort to a life of denial. This happens in the family arena as well as in a workplace. Bosses care less about the health of their employees: either because they are busy in their work or that the employee would not disclose anything of their private life.
As we all know, HIV virus can be contained through Anti-retroviral drugs. However, people who decide to keep silent about their HIV status may succumb to death because they lack assistance. Isolation is never a solution to person’s innate problems. The wise men said ‘a problem shared is half solved’. From the story, we also learn that the narrator was not concerned about the behaviors of other employees but only with Bartleby. Passive resistance aggravates everyone’s anger. Bartleby has no interaction with the outside world. He lacks joy in life and even his room has no outside window.
Even though people often show concern for people with AIDs, many often give up on the way given and the kind of suffering that AIDs victims experience. Victims of AIDs often demand a lot from people ranging from financial aid, psychological help as well as emotional support. Since there is death, many often feel burdened taking care of them. As a result, they resort to staying away and claim to support, while being away from them. This is also the similar case with narrator and Bartleby. The narrator expresses a great concern to help the poor Bartleby. But along with others, he, due to the unbearable nature of Bartleby character, resorts to relocate to another place just to keep off Bartleby. It is quiet ironical that he wants the reader to think that he really cares for Bartleby. His compassion for Bartleby disappears, when he realizes the personality of Bartleby. The compassion translates into frustration just like the case with AIDs victims. At first, one can feel very sorry for them, but as time goes the pity starts fading away.
Bartleby seems to be in charge of his own life and would not like to involve anyone in his personal affairs. The result is that he could not help himself out of the despair. This illustrates how the world of today has less concern for misfortunes of others. The society is to be blamed for the prevalent deaths of AIDs victims. A failure to stay in touch and running away from their presence instills rejection and despair. Our perception of life will work to enhance our lives or demean the value of lives, and in turn kill us. Bartleby’s attitude to life has made him live solitary. The brick wall depicts his total isolation from the society. He never drove any joy from life’s experience, but rather has chosen to isolate himself from everything and everyone. He refuses to enjoy life fully and likens life to death. The whole life seems to him like a series of purposeless tasks and eventually comes death.
Contrary to what the narrator did, we are called to continually offer support of all kinds to AIDs victims. When left alone, they develop trauma and lose touch with reality. But with concern and continual support, they often gain strength and the vigor to live in the society like everyone else. Bartleby died because he isolated himself from everything as well as everyone who could be of help to him.