When people first go to work, they have a lot of energy that makes them earn a great trust and loyalty from their employers. At this moment, the relationship between employer and employee is almost inseparable; however, things start to change as time goes by when the new employee is no longer regarded as new anymore. Various things might influence someone to change; for example, circumstances, experience, and people around. Herman depicts the character change in the story Bartleby the Scrivener through the two main characters Bartleby and Lawyer. This paper will examine the characters that change in the text and the antagonist.
The story Bartleby the Scrivener is a short story that tries to depict the conflict between characters and other characters in their working environment. The conflict has been presented between the main characters in the text, Lawyer, and Bartleby. Bartleby is an employee to Lawyer who reports to work during the first time early and goes home late at night. The author presents the character Bartleby with diligent and hardworking personalities. The narrator says there was no pause for digestion. He ran a day and night line, copying by sunlight and by candlelight (Melville 16). The Lawyer who is also the narrator in the story was impressed with Bartlebys effortless determination and commitment in his work. Bartleby begins his work during the first times at work with great motivation and commitment that makes his employer like him. However, things start to fall apart after some time when Bartleby begins to dislike his job. As compared to when he first joined the Wall Street Law office, Bartleby was a reliable employee who could not collide with his boss; however, recent changes do not make any sense. We as the audience we are not presented with the reasons behind his changes, but we are only presented with the different and changed mood that Bartleby adopts. The author has presented the changes in the two key characters as an individual based.
The first person we see changing is the protagonist in the story, the Lawyer. The Lawyer who is also the narrator in the story presents his dissatisfaction on his employee, Bartleby. He does not understand why he has recently started becoming lazy and incompetent in work. The Lawyers worries about Bartleby are not genuinely based on the employee-employer relationship but rather it is based on the benefit that the employee brings to him. He explains that he remembers when Bartleby joined his office, he was a diligent and hard working person; until some time back when he started developing the negative attitude towards work. The Lawyer does not feel irritated because maybe Bartleby has disobeyed him and refused to work, and he does not make any attempt to inquire what has brought the sudden change in his favorite employee. The change in the Lawyer is caused by the sudden change in Bartleby. Before there everything was perfect, and the author presents us with a law office where employees are very dedicated to their work. Until Bartleby decides to change and everything turn upside down. The office can no longer contain every employee including the employer, the Lawyer. The Lawyer is in conflict with Bartleby because of him even though he is his employee; he cannot get him to do anything that he asks of him. This disobedience does not worry the Lawyer but rather he is more worried about the refusal of Bartleby to work. The primary purpose of Bartleby being in Wall Street Law Office is do what other employees such as Ginger-nut, Turkey, and Nippers does; that is to proofreading the sessions and copying the papers. The author presents the challenge in the leadership of Wall Street Law Office; the Layer is no longer in control of the activities and operations as he used to be back then. With the sudden changes of Bartleby, the Lawyer feels overpowered, and it is like he does not have any power over his employees like Bartleby. Marcus explains that Bartleby is a psychological double for the Lawyer. The author says that Bartlebys power over the Lawyer quickly grows as the story progresses (Marcus 1).
Bartleby is another character that changes in the story. The changes of Bartleby are mainly based on his mood. Although Melville has presented a character that has a great influence on his boss; Bartleby has changed the perception of his boss, the Lawyer. Bartleby changes from the dedicated and committed employee to a stubborn and unreliable employee (Stern). His boss no longer understands him as he refuses everything that he is asked to do. At first, he is presented as a very lenient and reliable worker; however, things start to change. One day the narrator calls Bartleby, as usual, to come and help in proofreading the documents, the answer he gives to his boss surprises him; he says I would prefer not to (Melville 13). From this point onwards Bartlebys answer to anything he is asked becomes the phrase I would prefer not to. We fail to understand the reasons behind the sudden change in Bartleby; however, we can try to relate it to the work environment which can be depicted as cheerless and sterile. The environment surrounding Wall Street Law Office might not have been favorable to Bartleby. At first, he is working very hard; however, he changes after sometimes and no longer listens to his boss. The change might have been caused by the Lawyer also. The narrator is presented as a Lawyer who does not go to the courts to face the jury and the judges; however, he prefers to make his fortune out of the rich people by organizing their bailouts. The Lawyer makes a lot of money from the rich men; however, he does not even make the working environment motivating for the employees. The employees work very hard day and night, but they dont get compensated for their efforts. Lack of adequate compensation might have caused the sudden change in Bartleby. We can be able to depict this from the answers that he gives to his boss whenever he asks him to do anything. Bartleby answers every question with the phrase I would prefer not to; this is not rude or to prove disobedience to his boss, but rather he use such kind of expression to show his dissatisfaction and act of exhaustion (Meyer). In the first days to work, Bartleby is said to have been working very hard; therefore, we might ask ourselves one question that if things were going well back then, what might have happened to cause the sudden change? We can answer this question using the same concept we have examined previously; employees becomes unreliable when they see their efforts of labor are not rewarded or compensated as they would like or wish. Therefore, the institution has the responsibility to ensure that every employee receives his/her rightful compensation.
Bartleby is the antagonist in the story. Although we are not presented with his antagonism directly; but we can be able to relate it to the character development in the story. Bartlebys antagonism is not actively depicted; however, he ends doing things that depict him as the antagonist in the story. There are no or very limited instances that Bartleby engages in malicious acts that can make us make the assumption that he is the antagonist like the way we can easily see in other texts. In a normal perspective, the antagonist character is engaged in malicious acts that can either hurt another character or many people. This is not the case in the story Bartleby the Scrivener; Melville presents his antagonist character in a different way. Bartlebys actions do not prove to hurt anyone because in fact he never did anything at all (Stern); he kept quiet and answered every question with the polite phrase that I would prefer not to. However, it is this quietness that causes him a problem with his boss and other employees. He becomes quiet all over sudden and the Lawyer tries to understand him but could not. Bartlebys instinctive action sets the distinction between him and other characters in the story.
In conclusion, Bartleby, and the Lawyer are the key two characters that undergo changes in the story. Melville presents the changes in a conflicting manner where the antagonist, Bartleby becomes unreliable and incompetent to his boss, the Lawyer who is the protagonist in the story. However, both of the characters have a mutual relationship that brings their differences. The connection, however, has been presented in a conflicting manner; thus, the differences between the two main characters in the story Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville.
Marcus, Mordecai. "Melville's Bartleby as a Psychological, Double." College English 23.5 (1962): 365-368.
Melville, Herman. Bartleby the Scrivener and other stories. NAXOS, 2006.
Meyer, Michael. The Bedford introduction to literature. St. Martin's Press, 1987.
Stern, Milton R. "Towards Bartleby the Scrivener." Herman Melville: New Edition (2008): 13.
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