At first, as I tried to contain my surprise that Melville, who awed me in Moby Dick, was now writing with such humour and lightness, I felt that Bartleby was a Heroic figure, someone to be admired and emulated – and a welcome break from the complicated characters of the doomed ship.
On second thought, with a slight sinking feeling, I felt he might be a Romantic figure, someone to be eulogized and applauded.
Then, still upbeat about the simplicity of the novella, I was sure that he was meant to be an Ironic figure, someone to be understood and assimilated.
Soon, as the comic aspects faded into melancholy and unexpected depth started invading the short narrative, I started feeling that he might instead be intended as an Absurd figure, someone to be pondered and puzzled over.
Towards the end, as I too devolved with the spirit of the poor man, I felt that he must certainly be a Tragic figure, someone to be pitied and parodied.
Finally, along with the narrator, I was on the brink of concluding that he is a Villainous figure, someone to be excluded and ostracized.
But, in the end, in the tragic and evasive end, the novella had proved itself to be anything but simple and he was none of this and all of this, of course. He was probably the essential human present in the most inscrutable of strangers, in the inner life of the other. He might also be the scion of capitalism, a representation of its many wonders, and an idle. early sacrifice at the altar of pacifism and non-violence. He was some mysterious combination of the heroic and the ironic, and the rest too, in all probability – of the incongruous and the inevitable. A Gandhi without an audience.
He was Bartleby, the Scrivener.
I would prefer not to classify or understand him any further. It will be too discomforting.
- The Problems of Bartleby (biblioklept.org)
- Bartleby Blues (mraybould.wordpress.com)
- Bartleby, the Scrivener (2012introductiontowritingandenglishstudies.wordpress.com)
- Bartleby, the Pennsylvania Voter (chriscocca.com)
- The Moral Case for Silence (3quarksdaily.com)
- Starkey: Wallace a backup? Not really (triblive.com)
- The Anatomies of Bureaucracy (3quarksdaily.com)
- On This Day In 1851, Moby Dick Is Published (rememberinghistory.wordpress.com)
- Morning Bites: Great Graphic Novels Of 2012, Jon Ronson, L.A. Novels, Regular Coffee In New York, Ambassador W.K., Talking Bartleby, And More (vol1brooklyn.com)
- The Art of the Novella: Month One (danitorres.typepad.com)