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Published: 25-09-2019

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Bartleby The Scrivener And The Intolerance Of Mental Disability

Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street” presents the mentally troubled title character through the point of view of an ignorant narrator. Getting only encountered visible, physical disabilities ahead of, the narrator does not know how to respond to a man with depression. Driven mad by Bartleby’s preferred phrase, “I would prefer not to” (Melville eight), the narrator fails to recognize this phrase as what Mitchell and Snyder’s Narrative Prosthesis could label as a subconscious cry for aid, and rather tries half-hearted attempts at curing Bartleby. When these fail, the narrator fluctuates amongst pity and intolerance, in no way truly understanding Bartleby’s condition, and only accommodating him when believing him to have a physical disability. The inability of the narrator to empathize with Bartleby’s invisible disability and wish to instantly cure him presents a critique on society’s ignorance of depression and response to mental impairments.

Melville initially presents his narrator as an elderly man who sympathizes with his physically disabled personnel. His copyists Nippers and Turkey each suffer from extremely visible issues which occasionally hinder their productivity. Turkey, an elderly man like the narrator, experiences his “[face] blaz[ing] like a grate complete of Christmas coals” (three) every single day by noon till the evening, drastically impacting his temper and workmanship. Despite the “strange, inflamed, flurried, flighty recklessness of activity about [Turkey]” (three) that persists for half the day, the narrator considers him invaluable and excuses his disability due to the high quality of work he produces in the morning. The narrator tries to accommodate Turkey’s disability by proposing he go property right after noon, nonetheless, Turkey refuses and convinces his boss that his disorder does not hinder his ability to do his job.

Similarly, Turkey’s coworker Nippers also suffers from a disorder visibly noticeable to the narrator. Nippers’ indigestion manifests as “occasional nervous testiness and grinning irritability, causing the teeth to audibly grind with each other more than errors committed in copying unnecessary maledictions, hissed, rather than spoken… and especially by a continual discontent with the height of the table where he worked” (four-five). This irritability and restlessness, while annoying to the narrator, is balanced out by his “neat, swift hand and…gentlemanly sort of deportment” (4) and only ails Nippers in the morning—allowing the narrator to empathize with Nippers’ disability and not deem him unfit to operate. The physicality of each Turkey’s and Nippers’ impairments helps the narrator realize what takes place to them and accordingly try to accommodate his workers.

Despite the narrator’s seemingly progressive view of disability, he does not afford Bartleby the very same empathy and accommodation he does his other scriveners due to the lack of visible proof of the impairment. When Bartleby initial reveals his ennui and disinterest in performing specific activities, the other members of his office are confused and unable to comprehend why. Although although the narrator sooner or later realizes Bartleby has depression, “the scrivener was the victim of innate and incurable disorder…it was his soul that suffered, and his soul I could not reach” (16), he does not recognize Bartleby or adjust his work, rather pitying and resolving to fire him. In contrast to Nippers and Turkey, whose disabilities are normally ignored due to their quality of perform, Bartleby’s depression is not considered offset by his excellent scribing. As Bartleby’s depression possesses mainly invisible traits, the narrator does not know how to respond due to his unfamiliarity with mental issues, causing him to turn into repulsed by Bartleby and deny him sympathy or beneficial help.

This confusion and ignorance on how to deal with mental problems causes the narrator to grow to be intolerant of Bartleby. The lawyer and his personnel grow to be enraged by Bartleby’s widespread phrase “I would choose not to” (8) and view it as a symptom of lethargy and merely refusal to do perform he dislikes. However, the phrase itself is not a refusal but merely a statement of his internal feelings each about the distinct job and about his point of view of life. The wording of the phrase shows “the body…call[ing] consideration to itself in the midst of its breakdown and disrepair” (Mitchell and Snyder 64). Unable to express his despondency in any other linguistic form, Bartleby’s repetition of the phrase reveals his inability to uncover which means or interest in any activity, yet his coworkers lack the understanding of his scenario and mental state to supply support or tolerance.

Only when Bartleby displays indicators of a physical impairment is he provided any help or compassion, “his unexampled diligence in copying by his dim window for the 1st few weeks of his keep with me may well have temporarily impaired his vision. I was touched. I stated one thing in condolence with him. I hinted that of course he did wisely in abstaining from writing for a while” (Melville 18). Upon the hint of a physical impairment, the narrator withdraws his irritation and tries to support Bartleby. The belief that Bartleby might possess a visible disability immediately modifications the narrator’s perception of him, showcasing how mental impairments are not considered as hindering or critical as physical ones.

Nonetheless, once the narrator starts to suspect Bartleby has recovered from whatever vision dilemma he could have skilled, he right away loses all sympathy for his employee and tries to fire him. When Bartleby refuses to leave, the lawyer loses all patience and begins bombarding him with accusatory queries and considers physical assault (22)—once once again revealing his intolerance. The narrator then drives himself mad trying to figure out a way to “fix” his Bartleby problem, in the end opting to run away from that which he could not understand nor tolerate.

Upon realizing he can't escape this “demented man” (18), the narrator enlists several half-hearted attempts of helping Bartleby. He 1st tries to guilt Bartleby into submission by expressing how he is “the cause of great tribulation to [the narrator], by persisting in occupying the entry soon after becoming dismissed from the office” (25). After this tactic fails, he then tries to bargain with Bartleby offering numerous other attainable jobs, all which he refuses top to an irritated outburst from the narrator who then right away asked “in the kindest tone [he] could assume below such fascinating situations, ‘will you go house with me now—not to my office, but my dwelling— and stay there till we can conclude upon some handy arrangement for you at our leisure?” (26). However, these techniques all fail due to the narrator’s lack of information of how to assist a depressed person.

As soon as Bartleby is taken to prison, the narrator continues to demonstrate his confusion about Bartleby’s mental impairment, however continues to try to aid him. Upon arrival at the jail, the narrator tells Bartleby “nothing reproachful attaches to you by being here. And see, it is not so sad a place as a single may possibly think. Appear, there is the sky, and here is the grass” (28), primarily telling him to “be satisfied.” This fruitless attempt to aid Bartleby cements the concept that the narrator—while attempting to be helpful and understanding—truly lacks any encounter or knowledge in terms of depression or mental impairments. Even though he possesses the ability to pity Bartleby, he cannot totally relate to his dejection and as a result can only employ tactics he knows to operate with physical disabilities. The narrator’s unfamiliarity and misperceptions about how to support a person with invisible disabilities reflects how society treats those with mental impairments.

The lack of any character in Melville’s story supplying reputable support or empathy for Bartleby presents a critique of society and its handling of mental illness. Just how Bartleby’s colleagues perceive him as idle and do not recognize his dejection as a mental disability, society holds a equivalent ignorance for depression and equivalent mental debilities. Although the recognition of a cognitive disorder might take place like the narrator did with Bartleby, the vapid belief that visible disabilities are more genuine and manageable limits the quantity of aid a depressed individual could get. Regardless of subtle expressions of despondency like Bartleby’s “I would favor not to” (8), those who do not totally understand the mental disability usually fall onto a similar path as the narrator—a character who wishes to aid but can only muster pity, resentment, and half-hearted help for the mentally disabled individual. By means of the narrator and other lawyers perceiving Bartleby as a burden and ostracizing him, Melville depicts how mentally impaired individuals can be pushed further into reclusion and solitude. Bartleby’s death so rapidly following his incarceration displays how a smallminded and uninformed society worsens mental impairments and additional isolates people. Melville’s representation of depression in “Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street” and how his characters react to it presents a critique on society’s intolerance and ignorance of mental problems.

Functions Cited

Melville, Herman. “Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street.” Lexington, KY: Develop Space, 2014. Print.

Mitchell, David T., and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan Press, 2008. Print.
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