Saturday, March 10, 2012

Melville's Bartleby

Just the other morning, an ordinary Friday, I awoke at about 2:45 am. I have no idea why. I wasn't sleepy anymore. I lay there for an hour, restless, and then decided that sleep was not forthcoming. So I decided to pick up a book.

What to read--what would put me to sleep. That's what I was looking for. I had been talking with people at work about the reference to Melville's story "Bartleby the Scrivener" where the character keeps saying, "I prefer not to." We were likening this to some of our high school students. I even gave a copy of the book out and said I would re-read it and discuss, kind of like a little book group. I just knew that I really didn't want to read it at all. I hadn't read it since American Lit in college and hated it then.

So that's what I would pick up to read. That would put me to sleep! Melville!

So I started reading. I got so absorbed that I read the whole thing. I never did go back to sleep.

"Bartleby" is a magnificent little story. Tantalizing with clues as to why Bartleby is like this. The frustration of the narrator coincides with a reader's conscience. This is what we would do.

The other three copiers in the law office are a trinity of man, showing that a young kid, a young man, and an old man all have drive in life--or at least the ability to do what's required of them. That's important, I think, to run the gamut of ages and not letting it be linked to a certain phase. Even the old guy, who had probably been doing this copying since the young kid's age, still does what's required. The young man sees his future as a mirror of the old man's life.

At the end, we discover that Bartleby used to work in the dead letter office. Did these dead letters affect him? Was Bartleby a dead letter himself, with no address or purpose?

Melville can sure construct a sentence. There's some beautiful stuff here. Also, this story PROVES that Melville CAN write a good old narrative structure. It proves that Melville knows what to do. So why didn't Melville use these things when he wrote Moby Dick? Maybe that's a question I need to investigate further. When an author knows the rules and then breaks them on purpose, there has to be a reason. Melville knew the rules.

My wife just says that I stayed up because Melville makes my blood boil and that I get worked up over Melville so that probably is what kept me awake.

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