Analysis of “Bartleby the Scrivener, A Story of Wall Street” by Herman Melville and “A Sudden Awakening”

Social, historic and personal isolation is one of the most widely discussed themes in literature. Indeed, there are many literature characters that confronted to society being outsiders. Some of them adhered strongly to their isolation and others found forces (or were too weak to confront the society) to become “ordinary people” and conform to the society… Two stories that are under consideration in this paper address the issues of personal, social and historic isolation of the individuals.

Melville’s most famous short story was “Bartleby the Scrivener, A Story of Wall Street”, pointing to a symbolic connection with the famous street, while my story “A Sudden Awakening” is a work that revolves around an individual who strives to prove his/her individuality while first going against the social norms and then prove personal self-respect.

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Regardless the fact that the two stories were written in different times and under different historic and social conditions, as well as focus on characters that have nothing in common (age, occupation, character or motives), clearly that both stories have something to reveal about.

In this paper, we are going to compare and contrast the two stories and how they address the issues of social, historic and personal isolation, aloneness, nonconformity, class, materialism and self-centeredness. Two main characters of the stories face the problem of personal isolation and try to put themselves aside of generally accepted principles of social behavior, however, they do this in different ways and come to different results.

Herman Melville’s short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” reveals around the story of a “scrivener” or copyist who work for a low firm. Bartleby was a quiet and hard-working person who is the best worker among the three who also work at the firm.

However, the Lawyer considers him to be a good worker as Bartleby “might snatch it and proceed to business without the least delay” (Melville n. p.). However, the reader comes to understanding that Bartleby has “a bizarre nature” when he first pronounces words “I would prefer not to”.

It was the first sign that the copyist faced “some confrontation to society” and later, when we see his behavior, we come to a conclusion that Bartleby faced social, personal and historic isolation. His views did not fit the view of the society and that made him feel an outsider. The Lawyer characterized him, “but I waive the biographies of all other scriveners for a few passages in the life of Bartleby, who was a scrivener the strangest I ever saw or heard of” (Melville n. p.).

Bartley was a “mysterious” person for a reader, as we know nothing about his previous life and we cannot figure out why he refused any other work or favor proposed to him and said “I would prefer not to” each time. It may first seem that he was too self-conscious and self-centered, but, at the end of the story, we find out that it was an individual that had got himself into pathetic capitalistic slave-like state and it made him feel isolated.

In my story “A Sunned Awakening”, I write about a girl which also confronted society, but in her own way. She tried to express her self-confidence through her behavior and attitude to study:

I could have cared less about schoolwork… I also found myself absorbed in the trend of short skirts with a ratty looking white undershirt sticking out from under my uniform polo” (“A Sudden Awakening”, 1, 2).

It was a common way that teenagers made use of to show their confrontation to society, parents, as well as teachers and try to express themselves. First, it was just a behavior, but deep and very strong internal conflict was behind that behavior.

Thus, we can see that both stories reveal to personal isolation of the individual and, in fact, both characters have many common features. The first one is the feeling of personal detachment and conformation to the society. Bartleby and the girl felt the need to be different from others and both of them understood that the society they lived in did not want to accept their nature.

A lack of respect is probably a core reason that formed their attitude towards people. Bartley was a representative of a low society who worked in the firm that was situated at the business street where only “respectful” businessmen could feel comfortable. Thus, Bartleby was conscious of his purposelessness to that society and he also felt himself quite different.

He knew his responsibilities and his position and thus, he did no less and no more that it was required from him. The girl in my story felt almost the same, she took attempts to be a person people around wanted her to be (at least it was her personal opinion). The reason was hidden in her early childhood when her father:

Began to show a lack of respect towards me. Even though I will always be his daughter and he would never completely disregard me from his life, he began to lack faith in me in terms of how much potential I had in me (“A Sudden Awakening”, 1).

It was the first and the most important reason of her attitude towards herself and towards the society. Both characters lack the motivation. Bartleby was indifferent to everything that happened around him: he did not see any reason to eat good food or to live in a decent apartment.

He did not have any reason to communicate with other people: any invitation to spend time or dine in a company met his refusal, he continued to repeat “I would prefer not to”. “I would prefer not to” is a phrase that can characterize the girls’ attitude towards herself and other people.

She might say, “I would prefer not to study”, “I would prefer not to dress well” “I would prefer not to say truth to my parents”. Indeed, why would she prefer it, if nobody believes that she can be better that she is? Thus, both characters were indifferent to social opinion. Both of them believed that “the easiest way of life is the best” (Melville n. p.)

However, two stories have different finals. As a matter of fact, they are united in their differences. Regardless, the fact that both characters faced social and personal isolation, they expressed it in different ways. Bartleby worked hard, “Bartleby did an extraordinary quantity of writing. As if long famishing for something to copy, he seemed to gorge himself on my documents. There was no pause for digestion” (Melville n. p.). As opposed to him, the girl was idle and did not want to do anything, study in particular:

I needed to develop a way to deal with my stress and instead of enhancing myself, I found myself beginning to diminish. I was barely passing any of my classes and spending my free time trying to figure out ways to avoid having to do my homework. (“A Sudden Awakening” 1).

At first, both characters did not have any motivation to improve their lives. However, the girl was supported by her mother and she also, “told herself that everything would get better” (“A Sudden Awakening” 3). It was a starting point of the enhancement of her life and struggling with the problems.

As opposed to her, Bartleby refuse any support and preferred to starve to death rather than accept any help. Another reason that led both stories to different endings lies in the way of thinking of both characters. Bartleby was well aware of his difference and isolation, he saw no ways to change anything. As opposed to him, the girl did not feel isolated from the society, she had friend and a boyfriend, she communicated with other people.

However, she did not believe in her abilities and skills, but she got a chance to try to change something in her life and she achieved success. She figured out the way to prove her difference in a different way, as she said, “I lived up to my potential even though I had my reputation pulling me back” (“A Sudden Awakening” 6).

As we can see, both stories reveal to social, personal and historic isolation of the individuals. There are many common things among the two characters regardless the fact that they lived in different times and in different societies. Both of them confronted social norm, denied what people expected from them, behaved different from other people.

However, the two stories have different finals: Bartleby did not find forces and motivation to change his life, but the girl found support and proved her difference in a different way: she lived up to her potential.

Works Cited

Melville, Herman. “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street.” Bartleby.com. Web. 27 Sept 2011. “A Sudden Awakening”

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