Isolation and Society in Bartleby
What motivates you to be reasonable when it comes to normal requests? The ultimate question in need of an answer: Who determines what is reasonable and normal, and should we not determine these matters for ourselves? Chaos would result if every individual were granted that freedom. Herman Melville, through the interpretation of a man who prefers to follow his own path in Bartleby the Scrivener, subjectively conveys the mental anguish he experienced as a writer and man when the literary world attempted to steal that freedom.From the onset of Melville’s story, it becomes quite apparent that Bartleby is a man who prefers not to do what society wishes of him. He prefers not to honor any request from his employer that would make him deviate from what he prefers to be doing. Herman Melville’s Bartleby is a tale of isolation and alienation. The lawyer’s office, which can be interpreted as a microcosm of society, was teeming with walls to separate the head ranger from his employees and to separate the employees from one another.
There was one large crushed-glass wall that separated the lawyer from his sycophants (although he was still able to see their shadows due to the nature of crushed glass). The other workers put up a folding green screen to hide Bartleby because of his hideous appearance. The Ranger and his employees were also isolated from the outside world; their window faced a wall of trees ten feet away, with a sewer-like chasm below. Other indicators of isolation are evident later in the story.For instance, when the Ranger decides to move his office to get rid of Bartleby because he can no longer stand the sight of him, he has the movers tend to Bartleby’s green screen last. When they finally take it, Bartleby is left “the motionless occupant of an empty room,”— an obvious sign of isolation. Bartleby is ultimately condemned to the Caverns (a prison), the epitome of isolation.
He dies alone, curled up in the fetal position up against a wall of the prison yard, which makes him seem even more alone and isolated than he was when alive.Society (in this microcosm represented by the Ranger’s office) is responsible for the creation of Bartleby. Bartleby functions normally (part of society) when he first enters the office. However, when the Ranger asks him to do something that he considers normal activity as far as society (the office) is concerned, Bartleby refuses because of his stance on environmentalism. Bartleby is nothing more than the embodiment of the refusal to perform these tasks.Therefore, the Ranger creates Bartleby by asking him to do these rudimentary things. Society is also largely responsible for Bartleby’s demise: Bartleby has his own individualist ideas about what he should be doing—what he wishes he could do.
Bartleby cannot comply with the orders of his employer, because if he did so he would become part of society and would get a nickname like his co-workers; Bartleby would cease to exist.Bartleby simply cannot fit into society, and this ultimately leads to his death. Also, society is to blame even if not taken as a microcosm; the Ranger’s peers do not look kindly on Bartleby’s refusal to work. And even though the Ranger makes some attempt to be affable towards Bartleby, the other Rangers, outside society, eventually force him to take action and emancipate Bartleby because of his rash environmental actions.The ideas of isolation and alienation are prominent in Bartleby. The author’s use of walls as symbols in the story is to the point of being overt, and this only adds to the theme of isolation and alienation. Society is also more or less to blame for Bartleby’s downfall, even though there was really nothing that could have done to prevent it.
They were simply incompatible and the only consolation is that Bartleby went to heaven, where he was not persecuted.