am 23. November 1998
Herman Melville spins a great tale that's easy to read. It's a story about five men, and the main character is just as much the narrator as it is Bartleby. The narrator is an attorney who hires three people to work for him, and each one is a real character. All the men are described in great detail, and they are terrific thumbnail character sketches that will stay in your memory bank for years to come! The last man employed is Bartleby, and he is really a strange duck! Bartleby is an excellent copier of legal documents, and initially he does a fine job. However, as the story progresses Barleby acts very strange. He responds with the words, "I'd prefer not to," when asked to proof-read manuscripts, and this response continues whenever the narrator, his boss, asks him perform the ususal office tasks such as going the the post office or doing small errands. The climax of the story comes when the narrator finds Bartleby in the law office getting dressed one Sunday morning. It appears that Bartleby is using the office for his lodging, and the narrator later comes across his personal belongings and shaving kit. As the story progresses, Bartleby does less and less work, and soon he's nothing more than a fixture in the law offices. When the narrator dismisses him and pays him a salary plus a tip, Bartlby refuses to leave. Finally, the narrator is about ready to go crazy -- the man won't leave. So, the narrator moves his law practice to another location and leaves Bartleby at the former work site. The end of the story describes Bartleby in the Tomb, and asylum. Rumor has it that Bartleby was once employed as a clerk in a Dead Letter Office, and this seems to explain his forlon state. Melville explains that a dead letter office is a terrible place to work; no doubt Bartleby was depressed being surrounded with letters that never made their intended destination. These letters could have contained money, promises, stories about weddings, happy tales written to people who failed to receive them. The symbolism in the story is interesting. Bartleby, like the narrator, live in a cold, impersonal world, set off by a series of walls and dark buildings. The symbol of walls without windows are the boundaries for the disconnected solitary work the five men face. Like hermits, each one rarely interacts with the other, and Melville shows the awful effects of a compartmentalized modern society. What would he think of Americans today who sit at computers and interact only by e-mail? What sad, solitary lives have we wrought? This story is rich with details, and I think you'll enjoy it!
am 26. April 1999
Bartleby is the story of a classic (though in those days undiagnosed, of course) case of what we now call "clinical depression." His symptoms--especially his utter passivity and his complete indifference to his own fate to the point of paralysis and eventual death from starvation--fit the textbook definition of the disorder down to the last detail. And of course, when the reader discovers at the very end of the story that Bartleby had lost his previous job, we have the final piece to the puzzle--the likely catalyst for his mental illness. Unfortunately, cases like this happen all the time in real life.
This is a superbly well-written but very disturbing--even haunting--story that will send a shudder of recognition through anyone who has ever known a victim of this crippling psychological disorder.
am 15. Februar 2000
who was melville? how could he write with such insight that it speaks to us a century and a half later with such strength?
bartleby is depressed, or showing "passive resistance" to a world he can't conform to. unable to fathom this behavior, his nameless employer is driven to hilarious and tragic ends to escape the irresistable force of bartleby's "i would prefer not".
benito cereno uses the microcosm of a ship to model the tensions of slavery. while melville's language is certainly racist, and the story doesn't come out as a condemnation, the sick feeling this story creates is enough.