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Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener, A Tale of Wall Street" sheds light on working conditions in a post-industrial capitalist environment on at least three points. First, it points out that repetitive jobs, like scrivening (scribe work: copying documents by hand) can be mind-numbing work that may inhibit the scrivener's ability for independent thought because of a life spent copying others' words. Bartleby demonstrates the apparent lack of independent will or strong personality that the lawyer deems appropriate for scrivening. Consequently it is a stunning shock to the lawyer when Bartleby show he does have an independent will and strong personality when he declines--repeatedly--to comply with the lawyer's requests.
Second, the story points out the theme of freedom in a post-industrial capitalist environment in which one's movements and employments in an urban setting are dictated by a person superior to you (at least in position and power) instead of by the elements of a rural environment where the sun and seasons dictate movements and employments. Third, "Bartleby" points out the theme of activity and passivity in urban employment. Both the lawyer and Bartleby show signs of activity and passivity, Bartleby even demonstrates active passivity when he resists work assignments in his polite but pointed manner. The other scribes demonstrate lots of activity, but only the passivity that accompanies their own peculiar quirks. This theme is reinforced when the lawyer is stymied into stunned passivity by Bartleby's unaccountable behavior.
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