Herman Melville's Bartleby, the Scrivener Essay

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Herman Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener"

The narrator states fairly early on in Herman Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener" that both he and Bartleby are "sons of Adam" (55). The phrase plays on a double entendre, referring to both the Calvinist Biblical Eden and to the view of America as the "new Eden." Many recent critics have traced the biblical aspects of this and other elemen ts of the story, claiming the character of Bartleby as a Christ-figure, and as such carries out the role of a redeemer.1 The story, however, is not Bartleby's, but rather the narrator's. "Bartleby" is simultaneously a biography about a scriven er and an autobiography about an entrepreneur, and Melville uses this narrative to attack the mythology previous
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The new habits to be engendered on the new American scene were suggested by the image of a radically new personality, the hero of the new adventure: an individual emancipated from history, happily bereft of ancestry, untouched and undefiled by the usual inheritances of family and race; and individual standing alone, self-reliant and self propelling, ready to confront whatev er awaited him with the aid of his own unique and inherent resources. ...His moral position was prior to experience, and in his very newness he was fundamentally innocent. (Lewis 5)

Relatively early in his life, Franklin rejected his familial bonds and struck out on his own. He writes in part one of his Autobiography:2 "At length a fresh Difference arising between my brother and me, I took upon me to assert my Freedom, presuming that he would not venture to produce new indentures" (70). The remainder of part one details the various adv entures he undertakes, the mistakes he made -- or "errata" as he terms them -- and his ultimate success as a printer in Philadelphia. It is this narrative, and those which followed, which created the uniquely American phenomena Lewis describes as the American Adam. "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin" is America's primary Epic. ...[I]t is, at least from the point of view of its rhetoric, [American] culture itself"
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