What film might be best used to compare / contrast "Bartleby the Scrivener, A Tale of Wall Street?"

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The images that Melville brings out in his short story bear much in way of similarity to the world in the film Office Space.  Granted, that the tone of both are fundamentally different.  While Melville wishes to illuminate a rather dark tale of work, the film is a black comedy.  However, there are some distinct points of comparison to both settings.  Melville brings out a darkened and imprisoning aspect to the workplace:

My chambers were up stairs at No. — Wall-street. At one end they looked upon the white wall of the interior of a spacious sky-light shaft, penetrating the building from top to bottom. This view might have been considered rather tame than otherwise, deficient in what landscape painters call “life.”

The lack of life is conveyed in the element of walls within the story. The subtitle that indicates the setting of "Wall Street," as well as how Bartelby stares vacantly at the wall, in a "dead- wall reverie," communicates this.  Bartelby himself becomes withered of life in a world that itself is devoid of it.  In much the same way, Mike Judge's film speaks of a world that is lacking in life. Initech is a world of cubicles, "TPS Sheets," and memorandums where life itself has no meaning.  The world in which Peter Gibbons works is lacking life.  Part of his own desire to break free from this world is to simply find some aspect of life in a world that lacks it.  In both literary settings, work is a realm where the individual consciousness becomes homogenized and denied the essence of humanity that makes it distinctive.  

Another point of comparison can be between Bartelby and Milton Waddams. Both characters have familiar refrains that define them.  Bartelby's "I would prefer not to" can be compared with Milton's "I could burn the building down." In both characters' statements, a sense of negative reinforcement defines their being in the work place world.  Another similarity is in how both of them "live" in their workplace setting and are difficult to remove.  Both men become embedded to the very thing that takes away their humanity.  They become farther and farther removed from others and become unreachable as a result of the deadening environment of the workplace.  Certainly, their endings are fundamentally different.  Bartelby dies in jail, while Milton has burned the office down and has millions of dollars on a beach.  Yet, in both characters, the workplace has created a different human being, one who cannot be understood by those around them and becomes a distinct extension of the institutionalized feel of the work setting.

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