Bartleby Scrivner as a story about Non-violenceGenerally people think of Bartleby as a character to criticize or feel sorry for, yet I think we can also see some very admirable traits in him; there...

Bartleby Scrivner as a story about Non-violence

Generally people think of Bartleby as a character to criticize or feel sorry for, yet I think we can also see some very admirable traits in him; there are lessons we can learn from him not just as a negative example.

Bartleby showed the effectiveness of non-violence in dealing with disagreeable situations.  Bartleby did not want to examine copies for errors; perhaps he already diligently read over his work several times now and found no use in checking it again; perhaps he believed that everyone should be responsible for checking their own copies.  Whatever the case, we can view Bartleby as someone who did not want to do something just because others assumed it was necessary. 

Bartleby was an employee and his employer asked him to do something he did not want to do.  Bartleby was not in a position of power, yet his peaceful protest was effective in getting what he wanted.  Bartleby did not rudely or disrespectfully argue with him employer, he simply said plainly "I prefer not to" and did nothing else in the matter.  Despite the employer's anger, despite the popular opinion about what needed to be done, despite all the rhetoric that was leveraged against him, Bartleby peacefully expressed his wishes and that was all.  His employer eventually gave in to Bartleby's wishes.

Bartleby challenged people's assumptions and stood resolutely in his position.  He never fought back but people had to give way to his determination.

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accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I am not convinced by this approach. Non-violence as in the way it was utilised by Ghandi and Civil Rights protestors was a conscious assertion of power and might to protest. Bartleby just can't be compared with this, as he just gives up and, as the story continues, gives up even more, crushed by the insignificance of his life in the capitalist system that he faces.

auntlori's profile pic

Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I'm not sure I'd call this a story about non-violence, though I do agree that Bartleby is a good example of this idea.  Instead, the story to me is about something a little bigger, which is the dehumanizing effects fo mindless and unfulfilling work.  This is the reason Bartleby reacts, which makes this commentary the impetus for Bartleby's actions.

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alexb2 | eNotes Employee

Posted on

I really have to disagree with you about Bartelby's being nonviolent. He doesn't hit anybody, but he does display a passive-aggressive form of violence.

One thing to keep in mind is the very specific idea of "nonviolence" which is not the same as "unviolence" or pacifism. Nonviolence is part of a political idea about how to achieve something without using directly violent means. For example, sit-ins were used by Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil-rights campaigners during the civil rights struggle in America in the 1960's.

So, while the actions may provoke violence, they are still part of the nonviolence movement. Wikipedia has a great definition with good examples: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonviolence

linda-allen's profile pic

linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

I really have to disagree with you about Bartelby's being nonviolent. He doesn't hit anybody, but he does display a passive-aggressive form of violence.

alexb2's profile pic

alexb2 | eNotes Employee

Posted on

Excellent analysis. It is true that Bartleby is a sort of hero in the sense that he resisted completely against the powers-that-be, but never gave in to violence. You might say he is a sort of Ghandi-like figure, albeit one with no known political philosophy other then the "right to prefer not to"!

petercksun's profile pic

petercksun | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

Exactly Blazedale, though Bartleby may not have stood up for anything noble like Ghandi or MLK Jr., yet his tactics of nonviolence in dealing with conflict can be seen as having similarly powerful results.

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petercksun | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

Bartleby also shows us that, in the end, we can assume nothing about other people.  This can be a frightening but useful lesson to remember.  The narrator assumes that anyone who does the job of the scrivner will be willing to examine copies for errors.  The narrator assumes that once Bartleby is dismissed, he will leave and not come back. He assumes Bartleby would have a life outside of the office, but Bartleby seems to have no friends and lives in the office.  All his assumptions about Bartleby are wrong and that leaves him at a loss on how to deal with Bartleby. 

It may be impossible for us to completely stop making assumptions about what people are and what they might do, but as much as possible, we need to try.  Once we are free of such assumptions, we can know the truth better; we can live and deal with people more realistically and peacefully.

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