Bartleby, the Scrivener is an essay by Herman Melville, first published in 1853. This essay is a story about a strange lawyer's clerk named Bartleby, who rather than do his work, prefers to stand still and do nothing. It is a prime example of Melville's signature style of blending the absurd with the profound.
The essay explores themes of alienation, identity, and conformity. Bartleby's refusal to do his job seems odd and absurd at first, but as the story progresses, it begins to take on a deeper meaning. The lawyer, who initially sees Bartleby as an obstacle to be overcome, eventually comes to recognize him as an individual with his own agency and rights. As such, the reader can begin to understand Bartleby's behaviour as an assertion of his autonomy in the face of a conformist and oppressive world.
Bartleby's character also symbolizes the struggles of the individual against a system that seeks to confine them. The lawyer's attempts to make Bartleby conform represent a larger message about the power dynamics of society and the ways in which individuals are expected to obey authority without question. Ultimately, the essay serves to remind us of the importance of recognizing personal autonomy and asserting our rights in the face of oppressive power structures.
Through subtle symbolism and an exploration of identity, Bartleby, The Scrivener serves to highlight the struggles of the individual against conformity. By showing the consequences of refusing to succumb to societal pressures, it reminds us that standing up for our rights is an essential part of maintaining our autonomy. As such, it is an important essay that continues to be relevant today.