Individuality in Bartleby the Scrivener

Ralph Waldo Emerson in his text ‘self reliance’ argues that an individual should not conform to the standards that have been imposed on him by the society. An individual should however seek to follow his own wishes, desires, and convictions. According to the essay, the society often has negative impacts on the individual, and often makes the individual give up his values and convictions. Instead of conforming to the society, the individual should trust himself and realize his self worth. Emerson argues that each person is a unique genius and if he (the individual) can trust himself against what the society dictates, he will realize the genius in him. An individual should think for himself and value himself against the society. Emerson’s ideas have been used to analyze different situations tests one of which is ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’ by Herman Melvile. The main character in the story can be seen to fulfill what is asked of an individual by Emerson in ‘Self Reliance.’ The narrator in ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’ is an old lawyer who has been in contact with many scriveners. The narrator after giving information about some of the scriveners and their characters introduces Bartleby who is hired after the lawyer places an ad. Initially, Bartleby seems like the ideal employee who works day and night and always pleases his boss (the lawyer). On one occasion however, he declines a request from his boss to examine a document. He responds that I would prefer not to’ (‘Bartleby the Scrivener’) which surprises his boss (the lawyer is used to instant obedience). The defiance is soon revealed to be Bartleby’s character. This defiance is termed by the lawyer as ‘passive resistance.’ Bartleby continues to refuse to perform even the routine tasks that are expected of him. He even refuses to find a place to live. All he does is write, but at some point he gives up writing and takes up staring at the wall. His defiance can be seen to fulfill what I expected of him by the society. He (Bartleby) is defiant to the society and does what he as an individual wishes to do. The attempts that are made by the lawyer to persuade him to perform different chores do not move him. Bartleby also goes ahead to live in the office as he believes that it is the right thing for him to do. Ordinarily, one would be expected to find a house to live in not make the office his dwelling place. When he (Bartleby) is thrown out of the office, he refuses to move out of the building and lives on the stairs. Offers for housing are turned down, and Bartleby simply says that ‘I would prefer not to’ (‘Bartleby the Scrivener’) Bartleby exercises the free will and self worth that is advocated for in ‘Self Reliance.’ He is able to isolate himself from the demands of the society hence he is able to access his ‘inner genius’. His ability to defy the expectations of the society gives him a sense of freedom that helps him do whatever he believes is right and what gives him satisfaction. Despite the fact that his exercise of self reliance eventually causes his death, he is able to live and die in his own terms as Emerson would advocate. Works cited Melville, Herman. ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’ retrieved from