Thursday, June 08, 2006

What's Wrong with Bartleby?

Okay, folks, that is the entire question.

Is it important to know?

Do you accept the explanation that Melville's narrator gives in the last paragraph?

I agree with my high school English teacher that it would be best to end the text with the
quotation from the book of Job which comes just before the "explanation."

A reference to the Book of Job perhaps helps us answer the question, "What's wrong
with Bartleby?"

As you may remember from the Book of Job in the Bible, Job is suffering terribly and his
friends come upon the scene and start philosophizing about Job's troubles, which is rather
small of them and indicative of the human problem of passing judgment and reducing
other people to our ideas of them.

Let me explain the Job-Bartleby connection a bit more.

As John S. Tanner writes of Job's friends, "They have ceased to pursue answers,
complacently assuming their own wisdom was enough. And, most important, they have
failed to speak with compassion." Tanner also writes that the book of Job "warns us
against serving up pat explanations to the afflicted, as do Job’s so-called 'comforters.”"
The well-meaning narrator is totally unnerved by Bartleby, but doesn't he do a pretty
good Job not abandoning the relationship--or at least do the best he can?

Bartleby to me in some ways represents the problem of dealing correctly with the
sufferings of other people.

See also


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