Monday, August 15, 2011

Bartleby

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The Fatal Effects of Alienation

Alienation is a strange and profound state of being. One can choose to alienate oneself from society, or on the other hand society itself can alienate them. The feeling of alienation can occur when one simply gives up and finds no purpose in life. Some circumstance or event that perhaps has caused these people to alienate oneself from society and life in general has propelled the individuals who see life differently.

And what about those who are alienated by society and don’t realize it until its too late. “Freewill” is the only way out of a situation such as alienation. One must have the will to keep on going, to find a purpose in life. Life is not about giving up. William Wordsworth put it best when he described life as endurance without hope. In this world there are those of us who are strong enough to endure life, while others simple lay down in defeat and find no purpose or reason for life as Bartleby has done in Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener.”



In Melville’s story, we encounter a young man who saw society as an institution of hopelessness. Bartleby works at the Dead Letter Office burning letters all day with no social interaction. Even after Bartleby changes positions at his job and has the opportunity to converse and interact with the other employees, he chooses not to. Bartleby has become a dead man psychologically. Bartleby resounds with a ferocious passivity. His persistently passive attitude is focused at the regulated routines of normal society. This shows that Bartleby has acknowledged the senselessness of life without hope, which he knows it to be. As a result of Bartleby's hopelessness he refuses to do many things by simply responding “I would prefer not to.” When Bartleby's boss asks him “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 you at our leisure? Come, let us start now, right away.” Bartleby responds by saying “No at present I would prefer not to make any change at all” . Bartleby's unique behavior is one that can be defined by existential philosophy. Clearly this shows how Bartleby has given up and can not find any purpose in his life or life in general. The effect of alienation on Bartleby withdraws him from society and causes distress upon himself leading to his death. Because Bartleby fails to exercise his own freewill, he dies.


Much like Bartleby, we encounter a teenage boy named Herald Krebs, in “Soldier’s Home”; whose institution was the military. Krebs was forced to grow up quickly, and robbed of his childhood. When Krebs returned home to his family, he alienates himself because he cannot accept his surroundings. The army taught him, there are no consequences, you do as your are told, no thinking required.” He did not want any consequences. He is also confronted with having to lie to fit in with the society. “Krebs found that to be listened to at all he had to lie”. The army also made him a liar. Now the only thing Krebs can do is watch the world go by while sitting on his front porch. The army corrupts this young boy, and made him a victim of alienation by lying to him, and not allowing him to think for himself. Just like Bartleby, Krebs knows no other way. This is why he alienates himself from society



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