“In 1852, the year before the story’s publication, Melville—once a big seller—had been declared “crazy” in the papers. (“HERMAN MELVILLE CRAZY,” read one headline.)” (Kahn 2015).
The story, Bartleby was a hard read for me at first only because I didn’t understand what was happening until after a couple times of reading the story over and the annotated version really helped my understanding as well. I referred to this quote because in the past people didn’t quite understand autism; in fact, it was almost like that disorder didn’t even exist during the time. My interpretation after reading the story and reading the other articles for it, made me believe that this story is Herman Melville’s way of trying to inform people about how he feels and how to see things from his perspective. The question is, was Herman Melville trying to portray himself through Bartleby?
In the story, we see everything through the lawyer’s perspective and how he interacts with the four people that he works with: Ginger Nut, Bartleby, Turkey, and Nippers. I feel as though Melville wrote this to show his relationship with his father (his father as the lawyer) and what he went through growing up. Bartleby was described as polite at first but then strange because he isolated himself from the rest of his co workers by refusing to go out with them and just focusing on his work, and just having a lack of a social life. The setting of where Bartleby was blocked from everyone around him. The only thing that he sees is the building next door through the window. I feel that Melville might be representing how isolated he felt in his life. The text also mentions how Bartleby only had a few people visit him in his cubicle and only on certain occasions.
I believe that the lawyer portrays Melville’s father because the lawyer shows his frustration towards Bartleby when he constantly refused to do work. He’s not only frustrated because Bartleby isn’t doing his work but also because he doesn’t understand Bartleby’s repetitive reply and his reasoning for why he doesn’t want to do his work. I came across a blog on WordPress written by Ben Belek who talks about his interpretation of Bartleby. According to Belek, the lawyer represents neurotypical society. Belek talks about how “neurotypicals don’t always understand the motives, intentions, and behaviors of autistic people” and how it’s vice versa. Which is interesting to me because I never thought of it the other way around. If I were to see it in Bartleby’s perspective, I would also be confused and frustrated as of why this guy (lawyer) keeps asking me to do things when I told him I don’t want to or “I would prefer not to.” Even though the lawyer showed a lot of frustration towards Bartleby, he also shows some compassion that he has for him. In one of the articles that talked about Melville’s life, it mentions that Melville’s father may have had Asperger’s Syndrome as well. Could the frustration be because of that as well? Could that have affected their relationship some how? Is that what he was trying to portray too?
In the end, the lawyer abandons Bartleby and he (Bartleby) ends up dying alone in his cell. This made me so upset about how this story ended. Could the lawyer have prevented this from happening if he just stayed with him?
There are a lot of questions that are raised throughout this story. For instance, what is Melville’s actual interpretation for this story? What is the point that he’s trying to make for the readers in this story? This was interesting to me because one, I didn’t know that Herman Melville was believed to be autistic and I haven’t read much text on readings written by autistic writers. It’s also interesting to me to do background research on what people thought about autism in the past and how they interpreted it.
Benek, Ben. The Autism Anthropologist:Bartleby the Scrivener. Pub. 15 March 2014. Web 15 September 2016. Path: