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Research paper topic: In Democratic Ages Men Rarely Sacrifice Themselves For Another, But They Show A General Compassion For All The Human Race One - 1110 words
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.. and thus cannot help overcome Bartlebys problems. He says, "what I saw that morning persuaded me that the scrivener [,Bartleby,] was the victim of innate and incurable disorder. I might give alms to his body; but his body did not pain him; it was his soul that suffered, and his soul I could not reach" (2342). Thus, the narrator has given up trying to understand Bartleby, which in effect leads to Bartlebys death.
When the narrator concludes that he could not connect to Bartleby, it seems he has reached the limit of his compassion towards Bartleby. He devises a plan to get rid of Bartleby, rationalizing that he is helping the scrivener, when in truth he is bribing him. He says, "I told Bartleby that in six days time he must unconditionally leave the office. I offered to assist him in this endeavor, if he himself would but take the first step towards a removal" (2345). This indicates that the narrator has reached his limit, when it comes to helping Bartleby.
However, it also shows that the narrator is still being compassionate towards Bartleby because he is giving him advance notice, along with money, when other people would have simply had Bartleby removed from the premises. It can be argued that the narrator is giving money to Bartleby in order to ease his guilty conscience, but the fact remains that many people would have fired Bartleby the day he quit working, and they would not have given him extra pay. Therefore, the narrator is still trying to be compassionate, although he himself admits later on that he was trying to bribe Bartleby. Furthermore, when Bartleby refuses to leave the premises, the narrator packs his things and moves to another area. This is humorous because he is the one who is moving, since Bartleby refuses to leave.
The narrator could have had Bartleby thrown into jail, or he could have kicked him out, but chose not to. Many people would think that the narrator is weak because he does not throw Bartleby out, but instead moves his office to another location to accommodate Bartleby, and avoid a confrontation. The narrator says to himself, "you will not thrust him, the poor, pale, passive mortal you will not thrust such a helpless creature out of your door?" The narrator realizes that he would rather let Bartleby "live and die" in the office, instead of throwing him out. In the same line of reasoning, the narrator says to himself, "you will not have him collared by a constable, and commit his innocent pallor to the common jail" (2349). Therefore, he still remains compassionate towards Bartleby, while at the same time he leaves Bartleby, thinking that he is no longer responsible for Bartlebys welfare. This act shows that the narrator is still a prisoner towards his own rational thinking, and thus is still incapable of helping Bartleby. However, the narrators compassion towards Bartleby has extended further, when he offers to give Bartleby a new job. He says, "would you like to travel through the country collecting bills for the merchants? That would improve your health".
Bartleby refuses to accept any of the jobs that the narrator offers him, which in turn angers the narrator. The narrator is at his wits end because he is trying to help Bartleby, but his help is always rejected. Finally, the narrator offers to take Bartleby to his home. He says, "[Bartleby,] will you go home with me now not to my office, but my dwelling and remain there till we can conclude upon some convenient arrangement for your leisure?" (2352). The spontaneity of the narrators action shows that the narrator has again moved further away from his safe zone, in his need to help Bartleby. This also shows that the limit of his compassion has increased significantly, as he again tries to relate to Bartleby. The narrators safe zone is again challenged, when he learns that the landlord had called the police to take away Bartleby.
The narrator, who for most of his life was considered to be an "eminently safe man" (2330), goes to the Tombs to see Bartleby. This shows that he is again pushing the limit of his compassion in order to provide comfort to a man that he hardly knows. The narrator is again going out of his way to ensure that Bartleby is properly taken care off. He says, "I narrated all I knew [about Bartleby to the functionary], and closed by suggesting the idea of letting him remain in as indulged confinement as possible till something less harsh might be done" (2353). This act goes beyond what many people would do for someone in need, and therefore one should respect and admire the type of person that the narrator has become.
When the narrator goes to see Bartleby in the Tombs, Bartleby says, "I know you . . . and I want nothing to say to you" (2353). This suggests that everything that the narrator had done was not enough, and therefore this response would anger many people if they had to endure what the narrator went through in helping Bartleby.
However, the narrator only felt pain, and again tried to reach out by trying to ensure that Bartlebys stay would be as comfortable as possible. This is seen when he gives money to the grub man, and asks the man to take care of Bartleby. He says, "I want you to give particular attention to my friend there; let him have the best dinner you can get. And you must be polite to him as possible" (2353). This again shows that the narrator is a compassionate man, who does a lot to help give physical comfort to Bartleby, but cannot reach out to Bartlebys soul, because he is still incapable of understanding Bartleby.
Thus, Melville shows in "Bartleby, the Scrivener" that there is a limit to compassion, which differs for each individual, when one tries to help another individual. True compassion is when one gives freely, love that surpasses all understanding. However, this is a quality only seen in very few people (i.e. Mother Teresa). Although the narrator tries to understand Bartleby, he ultimately fails because they are worlds apart. The narrator is rational and practical, while Bartleby is withdrawing from life.
In order to relate to Bartleby, one cannot rationalize the situation, as it will not benefit Bartleby. Instead, the narrator should have given him unconditional love, which would have brought Bartleby back into the social world. Works Cited Melville, Herman. "Bartleby, the Scrivener." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym.
New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 1998. 2330-2355. Seelye, John. Melville: The Ironic Diagram.
Evanston: NorthWestern University Press, 1970.
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