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Herman Melville's "Bartleby" is a deceptively complex short story that shows the misconstrued definition that society holds for charity.

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Introduction

Cassie Weigel Mr. David Olsen, Instructor ENGA 202-07 Intro to Literary Studies 8 February, 2005 Poor fellow! He means no mischief; it is plain he intends no insolence; his aspect sufficiently evinces that his eccentricities are involuntary. He is useful to me. I can get along with him... To befriend Bartleby, to humor him in his strange willfulness, will cost me little or nothing, while I lay up in my soul what will eventually prove a sweet morsel for my conscience (Melville, 13). Herman Melville's "Bartleby" is a deceptively complex short story that shows the misconstrued definition that society holds for charity. The narrator of the story, who is responsible for the above statement, represents the manner in which many approach the act of helping others - beginning with the notion of pity, the charitable often assume that those with fewer material items are in automatic need of assistance, and then, if the situation presents the potential giver no inhibitions and possible self-gratification, he feels willing to share with the less fortunate what he has. Unfortunately, as soon as the donator begins to feel hindered by the charity in the social aspects of living, it is very easy for him to brush the charitable to the side. This representation in "Bartleby" is seen when, at first, the narrator feels it is his predestinated purpose in life to furnish Bartleby with office ...read more.

Middle

went to him as the lawyer began to "stagger in his own plainest faith (11)." In fact, for a few moments the lawyer was "turned into a pillar of salt (11)" by the absurdity of Bartleby's unexpected response. The idea that the lawyer was "turned into a pillar of salt" gives much insight into Bartleby's charity to the lawyer. This Biblical allusion - Lot's wife looked back, seeking to cling to her luxurious life in Sodom and was destroyed in the overthrow of the city - shows precisely how Bartleby's purpose lies in the revelation that man clings too tightly to material things. Throughout the piece, Bartleby tries to show that certain things in life do not deserve the amount of value that man gives them. The idea of materialism dominating the lives of the lawyer and his employees is noticed, first, through the repeated reference to food. The names "Turkey" and "Gingernut" represent the more symbolic references, whereas the eating of multiple pieces of cake at a time (8), going out to lunch and dinner frequently (14), and drinking alcohol in abundance (14) show the more concrete references; it reveals that there is gluttony within these workers and that their lives have partially begun to revolve around this type of materialism. ...read more.

Conclusion

toward Bartleby are merely representative of the same pains Bartleby has when he watches mankind. The lives of men are full of the same emptiness seen outwardly in Bartleby, yet they suffer inwardly and silently so that the world continues to appear happy and misery-free. It is only through Bartleby's example that this truth is disclosed. Regrettably, the narrator fails to see and receive this charity that Bartleby offers and the narrator sends Bartleby to his "Tomb" where he eventually dies of starvation. One could argue that if Bartleby were such a significantly strong character and presence in this story, it would be unreasonable for him to seemingly give up and die from lack of food. However, it is through this sacrifice that the his message resounds strongest. It shows that even when the narrator treats Bartleby with undo disrespect, Bartleby stands firm and "prefers not to quit" the narrator and will instead serve as an example for all mankind. It gives the rest of humanity a sense of hope: "he whom it would relieve nor eats nor hungers any more; pardon for those who died despairing; hope for those who died unhoping; good tidings for those who died stifled by unrelieved calamities (34)." This shows that although man is a fallible being, there is something beyond human comprehension that is willing to forgive humanity for its many mistakes. In a sense, that is the greatest charity of all. ?? ?? ?? ?? Weigel 1 ...read more.

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