Critical Analysis Of Bartleby The Scrivener

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Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener” and Willa Cather’s “Paul’s Case” present the complexity of both the experience and interpretation of loneliness by providing two antithetical lenses through which to view the title characters’ isolation. The end of “Bartleby, the Scrivener” is consolatory in nature, for Melville’s narrator sympathetically transfigures Bartleby from a symbol of difference to one of commonality. Melville implies that there is comfort to be sought in placing Bartleby within a larger picture by emphasizing the narrator’s sympathy for and affinity to Bartleby. Conversely, the final scene in “Paul’s Case” is disconsolate, for Cather suggests that the larger design to which Paul belongs is unsympathetic to his…show more content…
Alternatively, Cather’s “Paul’s Case” suggests that an objective, impersonal reading is appropriate by portraying Paul’s story as a “case”. The medical connotations associated with the term “case” distance Paul by implying that the events presented in the narrative are unusual and are consequently under examination. Thus, the stories differentially emphasize the requirement of a compassionate reading, as indicated by the language of the titles. It is this incongruity in the stories’ presupposition of readerly sympathy that the endings confirm and use to enhance the authorial attitudes.
The final scenes of “Bartleby, the Scrivener” and “Paul’s Case” affirm the contrasting positions set up by their titles through their opposing applications of hope, closure, and consolation. In accordance with Melville’s prescription of a sympathetic reading, he indicates that there is hope to be found at the end of the story. Despite the “amazing thickness” (Melville 536) of the jail walls within which Bartleby is kept, there is grass that, “by some strange magic” (Melville 536), began growing. The image of the grass blossoming in a setting that is not conducive to germination provides hope that something may grow out of the narrator’s experience with Bartleby. In fact, the almost talismanic quality of the blooming grass implies that there may even be hope for Bartleby, who “by nature and misfortune” (Melville 537) was disposed to a “pallid hopelessness” (Melville 537).
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