Bartleby the Scrivener and The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids | exclusivewritings.com
The attached is my essay that was used for the assignment. The following is a follow up question to that essay. Please just answer (in a paragraph or 2 and include in text citations, if necessary) the BOLD question(s) at the bottom. Please have knowledge of the stories “Bartleby the Scrivener” and “The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids.”
While reading your essay it occurred to me that the narrator of “Bartleby” makes a number of choices, whereas the narrator of “Paradise” doesn’t seem to make any choices at all. The Wall Street lawyer is disturbed by Bartleby, wants to help him, and tries one thing after another—lots of choices being made in this story. But the seed merchant in “Paradise” seems simply to look upon the worlds of the bachelors and the maids. The merchant is an *observer* rather than a chooser and an actor. I think the merchant keenly feels the injustice of it all, but rather than trying to do something about it he seems to just throw up his hands. At least that’s how I interpret the words with which he ends the story: “Oh! Paradise of Bachelors! And oh! Tartarus of Maids!”
Even the Wall Street lawyer, who *does* make an effort to help Bartleby (but sees all of them fail), seems in the end to throw up his hands in a similar way: “Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!”
Maybe what we’re seeing here are two characters who (1) find themselves faced with the new kinds of misery inflicted on workers by industrial capitalism and (2) find themselves so overwhelmed they feel they can do nothing else but decry it. If so, then maybe we can read the stories as an expression of a kind of helplessness before the juggernaut of industrial capitalism.
Anyway, for your followup I want to ask you about the “Dead Letter Office” ending of “Bartleby.” For the sake of convenience I’ll quote what I consider the key passge in full:
“… Bartleby had been a subordinate clerk in the Dead Letter Office at Washington, from which he had been suddenly removed by a change in the administration. When I think over this rumor, I cannot adequately express the emotions which seize me. Dead letters! does it not sound like dead men? Conceive a man by nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness, can any business seem more fitted to heighten it than that of continually handling these dead letters and assorting them for the flames? For by the cart-load they are annually burned. Sometimes from out the folded paper the pale clerk takes a ring:—the finger it was meant for, perhaps, moulders in the grave; a bank-note sent in swiftest charity:—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. On errands of life, these letters speed to death.”
Okay. “Good tidings” is of course a biblical phrase (Melville draws on the Bible a *lot*), and it occurs in a sentence with decidedly religious overtones: “… pardon for those who died despairing; hope for those who died unhoping; good tidings for those who died stifled by unrelieved calamities.” The one who provides this pardon, and the hope and good tidings, is the Messiah (in the Jewish tradition) and Jesus Christ (in the Christian reworking of that Jewish tradition).
So, what, if anything, does “Bartleby the Scrivener” gain by this biblical allusion? How does the Dead Letter Office section help us understand what’s going on in the rest of the story? Bonus question: do you see any parallels between the Marxist way of looking at the worker’s plight and the Jewish/Christian way of looking at it?