Bartleby The Scrivener

In democratic ages men rarely sacrifice themselves for another, but they show a
general compassion for all the human race. One never sees them inflict pointless
suffering, and they are glad to relieve the sorrows of others when they can do
so without much trouble to themselves. They are not disinterested, but they are
gentle. - Alexis De Tocqueville (www.cybernation.com) Compassion is an innate
quality that is found within human nature, and is expressed to those in the form
of a helping hand to people who are financially and emotionally troubled.

However, each individual may have a different limit towards the amount of
compassion that one can show to another being. In Herman Melville’s story,

"Bartleby, the Scrivener", Melville is showing the reader that each
individual does have a limit, when it comes to expressing compassion towards
other beings. Melville also shows that this limit is different for each
individual, when he talks about how each of the characters interact with

Bartleby. The story of "Bartleby, the Scrivener" begins with the narrator
identifying himself as a man who is "filled with a profound conviction that
the easiest way of life is best". This very attitude towards life in general,
suggests that the narrator cannot be too compassionate towards other beings
because showing compassion and providing support is hard work emotionally and
physically. To be compassionate, one must be able to understand the inner
workings of the unfortunate soul, so that one can help fix the problem. Thus,
the narrator does not have the experience or the spontaneity to help others
because all who know him, consider him to be "an eminently safe man" (2330).

However, one must note that as the story progresses, the narrator does push his
boundaries towards helping Bartleby, but ultimately fails because he does not
take the time to understand Bartleby. There is no doubt that the narrator is a
compassionate person because he puts up with the antics of his employees. One of
his employees is an old man named Turkey, who handles himself well in the
morning, but in the afternoon becomes insolent. Any other person would have
fired Turkey, when he becomes insolent towards his fellow workers and clients,
but the narrator generally leaves him alone. One can conclude that the narrator
is weak, and being a ‘safe’ man, he decides to let things be the same in
order to prevent a conflict, but this is an incorrect conclusion. The narrator
could have fired Turkey, which would have prevented a conflict as well as
resolving the issue regarding Turkey’s attitude, but the narrator chooses to
keep Turkey. Although one can say that the narrator is compassionate, one must
also take into account the extent of his compassion. In the scene where Bartleby
refuses to help examine the paper, the narrator backs away from a confrontation.

He says, "I looked at him steadfastly. His face was leanly composed; his gray
eye dimly calm. Not a wrinkle of agitation rippled in him" (2336). The
narrator does not know how to handle the situation because he could not find any
human qualities within Bartleby. Therefore, he plays it safe and avoids the
confrontation by proceeding to other matters. This scene helps show the
narrator’s limits because by playing it safe, he is not helping Bartleby, but
instead delays the inevitable confrontation. Thus, one can argue incorrectly
that the narrator has a weak character, when in reality he is looking at the
world with a different perspective, and therefore is not able to understand the
needs of Bartleby. It is easy to see that the narrator is a compassionate man,
although many would argue that he is weak. He allows his employees to be
themselves, and tries to reign them in when they go too far. Thus, when Bartleby
refuses to help him and the others examine the documents, he avoids a
confrontation. However, the others are quick to judge Bartleby. This is seen
when Nippers says, "I think I should kick him out of the office" (2337)
while Turkey says, "shall I go and black his eyes?" (2339). Neither of these
characters attempt to understand Bartleby, and if they had their way, they would
have fired him immediately. This shows that the limit of their compassion
towards Bartleby is very short, and it also allows the reader to come to the
conclusion that the narrator is indeed an extraordinary man, whose limit towards
helping Bartleby exceeds that of many people. A compassionate person is a person
who understands the strengths and weaknesses of other people. With a better
understanding of the person, one can help sort