Alienation & People
Realist. A word, which would greatly, depicts the ascendancy of Herman Melville’s work – Bartleby, the Scrivener. An oeuvre that depicts and denounces the harsh conditions of workers, particularly of the copyists of laws during his time. As such, the opus serves as an eye-opener for the whole humanity. It embarks upon the exploitation and dehumanization of an individual in a capitalist society wherein accumulation of capital is the primary if not the only goal of the bourgeoisie. As such, this results to the seemingly obliviousness of the bourgeoisie to the real conditions and needs of his employees.
This can be evidently seen in the story as the narrator gives only about four cents a folio, that is four cents for one hundred words of every copied document. One may argue that such amount has a great value during that period. Indeed it may be the case. However, if one would analyze the value of the wage given compared to the laborious task of a scrivener, it can be deduced that the given wage evidently does not equally compensate for the arduous job of a scrivener. The clear manifestation of such is the fact that employees in the story cannot provide for themselves an adequate supply of their basic necessities.
In the epoch of industrialization and technological advancements, it is quite paradoxical to see the employees subsisting in an adverse condition. Such order is the contradiction in a capitalist society. The story illustrates how at first an individual would succumb to a system which pledges social and economic change from its success in overthrowing the old form of society, the feudal system. As such he takes a particular wok under a new economic system, the proletariat in his desire to make himself a living and essentially, to make his life better. However, as his work continuous, he realizes that he is being exploited and alienated.
First, he is alienated to his products; in this particular case the copies of law that Bartleby produces. As he continuously produces products for his employer, his labor is being continuously objectified. If such is the case, then the number of things, which he produces in the external world yet does not belong to him continuously increases as he produces more. Hence, he is alienated in his products in two ways: first, by continuously producing products which does not belong to him; secondly, by increasing number of products he produces which he cannot acquire for he does not have the purchasing power to do so.
Second, he is estranged from his labor. It is because his labor does not belong to him but to his employer. He works accordingly not from his own willingness to work rather to what his employer wanted him to do. His employer imposes on him what kind of work he should do. And this phenomenon is what Marx called as forced labor. As a result, his labor becomes mechanical and void of progress. Third, he is estranged from his species being. Human beings have the right to self-determination. This feature separates him from other species and can only be carried out thru his life activity.
However, his activity under the capitalist economy, his being tied in his work forbids him to exercise his life activity – his self-determination. Fourth, he is alienated to his self. This is due to the alienation he experienced from his product and labor wherein he is not anymore treated as a rational being or even a human being in his Isness rather a commodity needed by the capitalists to procure monopoly of capital. These alienations were clearly depicted in Bartleby, the Scrivener and were eventually realized by Bartleby.
He realized that he is a victim of such exploitations. He struggles to reject the prevailing economic system together with its authority structure and exploitative practices. Its manifestations though not much articulated is the refusal of Bartleby to first do trivial tasks and eventually, to stop the demeaning work. Essentially, he stop to become a scrivener. Bartleby represents an “enlightened man” of his time even if he does not have the ideological grounding Marx and Hegel possessed during the emergence of the socialist ideology.
However, such realizations places him in history. Undeniably, in every society where there is a class, there is a class struggle. As such, a bourgeoisie would do anything to neutralize if not to totally obliterate the emergence of an ideology, which challenges the prevailing one. As such, the narrator is the epitome of the bourgeoisie. This was shown by the pseudo-kindness he is offering to Bartleby, seemingly oblivious of the exploitation and alienation his class is causing to the majority.
It is because if he indeed wanted to help Bartleby, he would do measures to step by step end such exploitation. Bartleby realizes how oppressed he is in a capitalist society yet he has not yet ponder upon what would topple down this kind of oppressive economic system as well as the manner on how the society can be changed. This can be attributed to his lack of education and knowledge of the basic principles of socialism, which is emerging during his time.
Unfortunately, he passed away before he can rationalize on how the existing society can be revolutionized Evidently, Melville is depicting the realities of his society during his time – the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. As such, the struggle between the prevailing yet oppressive ideology during that epoche– capitalism and the ideology which challenges capitalism and aspires to eliminate the oppression within the society – communism. Source: Bartleby, the Scrivener. Herman Melville. http://www. yahoo. com.