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Bartleby the Scrivener

In: English and Literature

Submitted By bcbinns
Words 876
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In ID’ing my fear, I imagined graduating in May with my Masters and entering the real world. I have many worries about this, but one of them has burdened me the last two years. While thinking about this specific fear, a short story came to mind from high school that may have placed the seed for this terror.
Herman Melvin’s Bartleby the Scrivener tells the story of a new employee of a Law Firm on Wall Street. Everything in this story embodies my fear of my future profession. A scrivener is someone who serves as a scribe. Bartleby is a new scribe to this law firm and works day and night handwriting copies of legal documents. The lawyer describes Bartleby as an excellent worker whose work output is tremendous. Along with Bartleby are 3 other employees. Turkey is another scrivener who is described by the lawyer as being excellent in the morning; however, as the day goes on he becomes less efficient and more prone to making mistakes. Nipper is a second scrivener who is simply described as a young ambitious man and a steady worker. Ginger Nut is a young errand boy whose primary role is going to pick up ginger nut cakes. Bartleby continues to work day and night to producing perfect copies of legal documents pleasing the lawyer greatly. One day, the lawyer comes in asking Bartleby to examine a document and Bartleby responds to his plea with “I’d prefer not to.” The lawyer is baffled with this response and delegates the work to Nipper. Bartleby continues to repeat this phrase when delegated task to the point he is not getting any work done. The lawyer realizes Bartleby has been living in his office for weeks. He discovers that Bartleby has no family, friends, nor a life outside of his employment. The lawyer is forced to terminate Bartleby’s employment and asks him to leave, yet Bartleby again says “I’d prefer not too”. The lawyer is forced to move offices, yet is tormented further as the new tenants of his previous office complain that Bartleby will not leave. Bartleby is arrested and placed in prison for his refusal to leave the office. The lawyer hears months later that Bartleby died in prison. When asked to eat, his response was “I’d prefer not to.”
Although much time was spent summarizing this story, I found it important in truly expressing my fear. I have constantly argued with myself if I will be happy 20 years down the road with my career. I can only worry if I will find purpose in my career and not fall ill to the same fate that burdened Bartleby. Throughout the story, the lawyer describes his employees solely by their tendencies and work output. Ginger Nut’s primary purpose is to get cakes, similar to staff auditor’s significance in picking up dinner during busy season. I always hear about sacrificing your younger years or work life balance to focus on your career, but it worries me at what happened to Bartleby. His self imposed isolation was evident by living out of the office. What worries me most is the analysis of the Sparknotes website,
“Mortality plays a role in "Bartleby," but not in the usual sense. Death pervades the story, not as the event in time that finishes a life, but as a kind of poison permeating every aspect of the world we live in. The act of living is the real death. Living is a tiring and arduous process, full of numbing compromises and submission to meaningless tasks. Our mortality is unavoidable, and our best intentions are often futile.”

I have no doubt I can be successful if I put my mind and a good work ethic towards it, but at what cost would this come? What is to say I make Senior Manager in 6 years at a public accounting firm or in a prominent industry position, but I in my success, I am also a victim of a cheerless, lonely, workaholic world. In the picture drawn, you can see myself sitting at my desk. It is late as evident by the clock, and my inbox is full of confirmations and audit reports to tie out. In front of my desk is a window, but the only thing I can see is a weathered, rotting brick wall like the one that haunted Bartleby. On my desk also sits a picture frame given as a gift, but I had no pictures of family or friends to put in it. Although not shown in the picture, I am surrounded by fellow auditors known not for their personalities or passions, but labeled for their work output. All considered, this is a real fear that I need to deal with. I understand I may sound extremely morbid and cynical in this fear. I am generally a positive person; however, it seems as if many people in the professional world fall victim to this fate. I think it is important for me to establish what my priorities are and to go with my heart. I think it is also important that I become confident in myself and do not be afraid to stand up for myself if faced with a workaholic manager or boss.

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