Does the lawyer have duties towards Bartleby, and does he fulfill them? If not, who is responsible for Bartleby?

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The lawyer does try to help him. Instead of summarily firing Bartleby or throwing him out on the street when the odd behavior begins, he makes every effort to talk to Bartleby and get to the source of the problem. But nothing comes of it. Bartleby continues to deteriorate, eventually withdrawing from the physical process of life as well as from the normal communion with other humans that marks most people’s patterns of behavior.

Melville’s message is conceivably that people do have a responsibility to one another but that the results of exercising it are unpredictable and uncontrolled, as they are in this case. It is a truism to state that the theme of Bartleby is an existential one, but this is an accurate interpretation. Each person must decide for themselves their destiny and their responses to the conditions of the outside world. Without this ability to choose, the very free will posited even as the basis of traditional belief systems and religions would not exist. In an existential world that freedom extends to the personal choice, in Bartleby’s case, of self-obliteration. Though the circumstances are entirely different, in The Stranger Camus has his protagonist Meursault make essentially the same choice.

Bartleby’s employer exercises his own free will in paying the attention to Bartleby’s case that he does, although doing do is ineffective. It merely shows that no person can control another’s fate or change the expression of their inner will and their response to the existential dilemma.

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