In "Bartleby the Scrivener," why does Bartleby stare out the window or lurk behind a screen?
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Yes, it is interesting to note the way in which the enigmatic character of Bartleby is presented as always being hemmed in in some way. Consider how the office of the narrator only overlooks walls on every side, as the windows command "an unobstructed view of a lofty brick wall." Bartleby has his own little "hermitage" where he works, and the narrator tells us that he has the habit of staring at the wall out of the window blankly, in a "dead-wall reverie." Note how the narrator organises Bartleby's working space and the emphasis on confinement and lack of freedom:
I placed his desk close up to a small side-window in that part of the room, a window which originally had afforded a lateral view of certain grimy back-yards and bricks, but which, owing ot subsequent erections, commanded at present no view at all, though it gave some light. Withing three feet of the panes was a wall, and the light came down from far above, between two lofty buildings, as from a very small opening in a dome. Still further to a satisfactory arrangement, I procured a high green folding screen, which might entirely isolate Bartleby from my sight, though not remove him from my voice. And thus, in a manner, privacy and society were conjoined.
Bartleby is literally shut away from human sight as he is blocked by walls and screens at every turn, which obviously lead us to think that this story is commenting upon the nature of human freedom. Some critics argue that the presentation of Bartleby serves to emphasise the way in which the capitalism that Wall Street embodied metaphorically "trapped" such individuals as Bartleby into trading their lives for a low wage through doing menial tasks. Either way, such descriptions point towards the way in which Bartleby is a trapped individual in his life, as his subsequent death in a prison seems to indicate.
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