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Conflicting Values in Bartleby the Scrivner Essay



In Bartleby the Scrivener, Bartleby refuses to become another empty soul bolt in the system that we all call life. Birth is a beautiful thing as it leads to endless opportunities to become or do anything the world has to offer. People all across the world grow up dreaming of doing something extraordinary with their life but sadly enough for most people reality sets in and priorities change. There is no doubt that there is an unseen system that the vast majority of us fall into with only an small percentage of lucky ones such as Bartleby who are able to avoid the agonizing fall into commonness. No one knows about this fall into commonness better than the narrator (lawyer). Whether he is aware or not he has become so used to doing the same thing day in and day out that he is numb to the people and world around him. Without hesitation he refers to himself as an unambitious lawyer and says that people consider him and eminently safe man. There is not a child in the world that dreams of someday becoming an unambitious safe man. The system took a strong hold of the narrator a long time ago and there is no turning back. His morals have been set and there is no changing his way of life but Bartleby is not blind to this. Bartleby recognizes the unseen system and he refuses to abide by its rules. Bartleby realizes that he still has choices to make in life.

The first time that Bartleby refutes the work that the narrator presents him with, Bartleby simply says that he prefers not to do it. Bartleby, although seeming simple actually very carefully speaks this phrase. Bartleby in no way completely refuses to do the work presented to him but given the choice of doing it or not he prefers not to. If Bartleby were to simply accept the work given to him then he would be another victim to the system but by preferring to not accept the work he is expressing his right to make choices. Bartlebys ability to make his own choices makes him an outcast of the system, as the system is what usually makes choices for the people and not the other way around. As people we are expected to abide by the choices given to us by the system and Bartlebys refusal to do so is what baffles the narrator.

Still baffled by Bartleby the narrator later in the story tries to justify Bartlebys imprisonment by saying that it should not be such a vile place for Bartleby. Prison is just what he may need. Disgusted and not wanting to hear the narrators description of prison, Bartleby cuts him short by saying, I know where I am. Similar to Bartlebys love for the phrase I prefer not to he again inputs a lot of meaning into a very simple quote as Bartleby is not referring literally to the prison but metaphorically to his environment. Bartleby knows exactly where he is and that is the system. He strived so hard to live his life away from commonness and to avoid the system and in the end he is stuck in the one place where choices cease to exist.

In the end the conflict of value between Bartleby and the narrator was that Bartleby valued his life and the narrator did not because the narrator was not truly living his life. Bartleby understood what the world had offer and he was not content with doing the same thing day in and day out. Bartleby was not essentially a safe man and he did not want to live y the safe values of the system. Like a child Bartleby still had dreams and still had choices to make in life. The narrator could not grasp this, as he could not even put himself out there enough to take on a risky case. Bartleby was not just another bolt in the system.

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