Bartleby the Scrivener, A Tale of Wall Street Essay | "Bartleby, the Scrivener": Charity for Rewards

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"Bartleby, the Scrivener": Charity for Rewards

Summary: In Herman Melville's short story "Bartleby, the Scrivener," the lawyer who employs Bartleby acts charitably towards him only because the lawyer foolishly expects self-gratification and a higher level of humanity in return. Melville portrays the lawyer as an individual who misinterprets charity in order to critique members of society who display the same phony behavior.
Charity for Rewards

One typically displays acts of charity for the love of mankind or benefit of society. However, differentiating whether a generous deed reflects altruistic behavior or selfishness can be difficult. In Herman Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener," the lawyer performs charitable conduct toward Bartleby to acquire self-approval and an honorable conscience.

The lawyer employs Bartleby, a lifeless man, as a copyist for his law firm. In the beginning of his employment, Bartleby works efficiently. However, Bartleby soon begins to deny the tasks assigned to him with the statement, "I would prefer not to" (1184). While irritated at Bartleby's response, the lawyer disregards his behavior. Typically, this type of behavior would result in dismissal from one's job. However, Bartleby remains employed because of his usefulness (1187) to the lawyer. By performing charitable deeds, such as continuing Bartleby's employment, the lawyer exploits Bartleby to "cheaply purchase a...

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