Sunday, September 7, 2008

Bartleby: The Quiet Rebel

In class Friday, some explanations focused on speculation about Bartleby's sanity and and general mental health. I think it's a commentary on society that a man who speaks his mind in a calm meek voice and wants to live a simple life is immediately assumed to be missing something. I disagree. Instead of missing something, I think Bartlebly discovered something working all those years handling Dead Letters. I think he found courage: courage to go against the grain, not just in the office place but in society as a whole.

We assume that whether we like it or not, we have to work. Even in a person is stuck in a dead end job, he will endure disrespect, long hours, and soulless work. And for what? A paycheck. Money. Barter, the value of which was assigned by forces workers cannot control. Or at least they think they can't.

Bartleby shows us that you can live in the world while no accepting its terms. When the lawyer repeatedly asks him to copy letters, and he refuses, the lawyer is so taken aback he doesn't know what to do. The disarming qualities of Bartleby made him not want to fire him, even though every convention of thinking says he should. Bartleby stood up for himself in passive resistance much like civil rights works and suffragettes.

And although he dies in the end, he dies on his own terms. Like water slowly slicing through a boulder, Bartleby is persistent. And in the words of the lawyer, there is nothing more annoying than that. Like Susan B. Anthony and Rosa Parks, Bartleby rebelled against the established order. Not with weapons or fiery rhetoric, but with quiet resolve. It puzzles me that people would accept without question the prospect of spending the rest of their lives working for someone else, but to serve oneself is deemed indicative of mental illness.


Ian Bonhotal said...

I think you stumbled upon something important in your point about the Dead Letter Office. Perhaps the narrator's reaction to Bartleby's previous occupation serves as a sort of 'red herring', and symbolizes society's attempts to rationalize behavior not understood at the time. Point in case, Bartleby is far from the hopeless character the narrator perceives him to be.

The Independent Progressive said...

Yes. I agree. Perhaps, we don't want to deal with the idea of our own responsibility in whatever position we find ourselves. Because if we are responsible for our unhappiness, then that means WE have to do something to change it. Bartleby is a rebel because he took it upon himself to change his situation. It sounds simple, but it's a quite revolutionary idea in life. This leads me to another question i'll ask on your blog post.