What does Bartleby want? (Bartleby, The Scrivener by Herman Melville)
I’ve thought about this question several times, and to be honest, this is probably one of the most confusing stories I’ve ever read. That’s probably because I took the story for exactly what it said. Maybe my approach was superficial. The discussion we held in class has definitely assisted with my understanding of this piece. What does Bartleby want? At first I thought it was simple: he wanted to be left alone. I always figured that perhaps he went through a traumatic experience and staring at walls was his way of coping with that experience. In the beginning on page 6, the narrator described Bartleby as a sort of whirlwind entity that completed each task efficiently and in a timely manner. The narrator also notes that Bartleby never seemed happy and appeared mechanical when he would work. However, almost abruptly and without explanation, Bartleby decided that he would “prefer not to” perform any other tasks his boss (the narrator) assigns to him.
What I think Bartleby wanted was to “rage against the machine”, an ideology that derived from Karl Marx’s thoughts on capitalism. Bartleby saw the narrator as a machine or corporation, and decided that he didn’t want to participate in what I believe he thought was a form of capitalism. We do know that Bartleby previously worked at a dead letter office, and perhaps he was tired of working for . However, his rebellion, if you will, was not filled with rage at all. Every time he was asked to perform a task, he simply and calmly replied “I prefer not to” and this bewildered his boss. It bewildered him so much so that he didn’t see the point in getting upset. I do believe Bartleby’s approach was very passive-aggressive. Now I’m not sure whether Bartleby just wasn’t a confrontational person, or if he was asserting his own power in a manipulative way. This is where it gets a little confusing. Usually when a person is calm, honest, and respectful when confronted, it usually makes the person initiating the confrontation confused. They may have a preconceived notion of how hostile a confrontation may become, but would automatically have to change their tone and approach if the response is not what they expected. Aside from refusing to do work, Bartleby also refuses to leave the office or eat. He permanently occupies his office space until the narrator packs up his business and leaves Bartleby behind.
As the story progresses, Bartleby starts to have a major effect on his boss. At first his boss was impressed with Bartley’s ability to work fast and effectively, but when he (Bartleby) refuses to leave the office and eat, the boss starts to sympathize with him. He began looking at him from a more humanistic view. Bartleby lacked emotion and this bothered the narrator. His thoughts become preoccupied with Bartleby. It doesn’t seem to bother him anymore that his employee refused to work, he was more concerned with Bartleby’s welfare and getting to know more about him. There was a sort of transition from the machine (the boss) turning human, and the human (Bartleby) turning into a machine. It’s a very interesting change of events.
What are Carmona’s main points? (“The Liberal Solution to Police Violence: Restoring Trust Will Ensure Obedience” by Jose Carmona)
Carmona describes how President Obama appointed the Task Force to explore what was happening in light of the recent uprising in police brutality cases, and to propose solutions for those problems. The Task Force issued a report saying that building trust and legitimacy is one of the main solutions to ending police brutality. However, Carmona doesn’t seem satisfied with this approach. He feels as though this proposal does not hold police officers accountable for their actions and is simply a way to get people to comply with orders while sweeping unnecessary abuse and mistreatment of citizens under the rug. Where are the orders for police officers to stop harming and killing unarmed people of color? This what I believe Carmona wants to know. Some of reformation proposals set forth by the Task Force on page 2, includes putting police officers through training, having them wear body cams, and using “less than lethal” weapons. Not once did any of these reformations command police officers to stop harassing innocent citizens and even killing them. Carmona also mentions, that no one even bothers to discuss why there is a mistrust in police officers in the first place, especially from Latinos and Black people (also on page 2). The Task Force wants the trust between police officers and citizens to be established, without a clear explanation of how this should be accomplished. This is what Carmona refers to as compliance. The Task Force simply wants to wrap police officers up in the proverbial “pretty packaging and bows” (equipping them with better technology, “training,” and less than lethal weapons) without delving into the real problem: unnecessary harassment and abuse of people of color. This proposal doesn’t seem to set officers out to gain the trust of people color, but simply establishing it for them by “legitimizing” and hoping for compliance.
Comparisons between both readings?
I would say that there are subtle similarities in each reading. Both pieces are very different, but if you look a little closer, you will find similarities. For instance, in the story about Bartleby, his boss (and the narrator) attempts to “legitimize” Bartleby by viewing him in a more humanistic way. Remember, Bartleby came off as a mechanical whirlwind entity who worked rapidly and proficiently. The narrator tries to do this without criticizing Bartleby for who he is, while painting an image of who he thinks he is in his mind. This made it easier for the boss to establish a connection between the employee and himself. He then realized that Bartleby was more than just an excellent worker, but he was still a person with whom the narrator can have a connection with. In my opinion, this relates to Carmona’s piece because as I stated previously, the Task Force set out to legitimize the police force, not really to gain trust from citizens of color, but to get compliance by appearing more authoritative. This will allow citizens to view the police force as trustworthy simply because they appear to be more trusting without actually have to build it. It’s truly a game of smoke and mirrors.