Bartleby–Group 1

Bartelby ends up in the Tombs, NYC’s primary prison. — Johann Gabriel Friedrich Poppel, William Heine, The Tombs, Halls of Justice, 1850, engraving, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Trinity Church stands at the end of Wall Street. The narrator plans to attend services there one Sunday, until he finds Bartleby in his office. That office could be in one of the buildings (many of them banks) that you see. –From the NYPL, 1849.

As the slides point out, Bartleby takes place mostly within the lawyer/narrator’s chambers, but also creates a sense of what it feels like to live through NYC’s emergence as a commercial/capitalist powerhouse. The narrator and others have to contemplate new kinds of human relationships, dangers to mental health, and notions of sympathy and necessity in the workplace. The Tombs and Trinity Church both get mentioned in the story. Are the illustrations above consistent with the feel of the city in Bartleby, or do they present a different vision of it? Write a paragraph or two explaining why one of them reflects or contradicts the mood of Bartleby. Look for visual details not generalizations. If others have commented on the images before you, don’t just repeat them or simply agree. Look to add something new that will elaborate on the previous comment or see the picture and its relationship to the text in a different way.

7 thoughts on “Bartleby–Group 1

  1. Thomas Dillon

    I find the illustration that depicts The Tombs to be relatively consistent with the atmosphere established in the short story of Batleby by Melville. Throughout the story, the narrator seems to elucidate the atmosphere of 19th century Wall Street as one of constant motion, activity, and production. It is an environment that is sorely lacking autonomy and individuality. The illustration parallels this dynamic with its features of activity and motion in the foreground as seen through the horse chariots and pedestrians occupying the street. On the other hand, The Tombs is massive and imposing, seemingly threatening the everday civilians of the newly commercialized New York City of their responsiblities and duties in this society, responsibilties and duties which should they feel to meet will elicit their imprisonment in this dark, somber structure. This is the fate that Bartleby tragically suffers as a result of his inability to conform to the duties required by a capitalistic society. The surrounding features are much more optimstic and emblematic of the potential for commerce and capitalism to “thrive” and “construct” financial success. This is the kind of energy and scenery I imagined as I read from the narrator’s perspective.

  2. Paolo Gonnelli

    The first thing I thought of was the name of the prison, the “Tombs”. It is clearly foreshadowing name that puts the concept of prison on the same level of death, and by extension confinement (like an office) means death. Bartleby’s staring of the wall in the office seems to me like he is the only one who is aware of this. There is power in this, a certain agency given by the knowledge and self-awareness of his own human condition. While the narrator does say that he finds the office suffocating and thus wants to move, I read it sarcastically. He is in fact a very complacent person, non confrontational and would rather stay hidden behind a wall. Moreover, I got the feeling that every time he was outside, he felt somewhat uneasy, jumpy even. In the occasion, he is surprised to hear some strangers betting, he thinks they are also talking about Bartleby and is mostly taken aback by that newfound sense of connection. It doesn’t last though, and is soon reminded that it is because of the elections. He is thus reminded of his own alienation, as if he does not belong in that “open” space. I think the illustration above of the Tombs reflects that alienation. The contrast is clear between the refinery and grandiosity of the building with the simplicity of its surroundings: tents and brick buildings. The details on the columns, on the upper frames also suggests that the focus lies on the building. That is what is important, the people are unrefined, black silhouettes as to signify the growing shift in attention towards the material possession, rather than the person. The people are thus peripheral, just like they are in “Bartleby”. Furthermore, the contrast in the illustration between the Tombs and the surrounding buildings is also in line with the internal conflict the narration goes through in regards to Bartleby, it made me raise the question of what is more important? What is the most appropriate, rightful course of action?
    Finally, as it was mentioned in another comment, the building is in line with the narrator’s description and correlation to a pyramid. In this illustration in particular, I think the columnated entrance is fundamental. It demands reverence, it demands importance, but also it functions as a barrier, as a clear separation between the mundane and what matters, material grandiosity.

  3. Timothy DeLorenzo

    These prints have too much atmosphere and Christian iconography. Our lawyer narrator describes Wall Street as an anti-church. ” Of a Sunday, Wall-street is deserted as Petra; and every night of every day it is an emptiness. This building too, which of week-days hums with industry and life, at nightfall echoes with sheer vacancy, and all through Sunday is forlorn” (13). Without industry, Wall Street is carnage. In these prints I do not see the “fine florid hue” of Turkey’s morning face, or the “blaze like a grate full of Christmas coals” in his afternoon phase (3). Though, I do see the Head of Cicero in these prints. It’s art on a literal pedestal, which is a representation of the institutional mythology that the attorney valued, accepted on faith, and kept 6 inches above his own head (14). I have to admit that I’m preferential to oppressive looking clouds, and the prints effectively communicate the ignominious feeling within the compliant figures that dart the foreground and fall into the perspective of looming ‘sacred’ architecture. There is also tremendous gravity in the prints, similar to the motivations that the attorney describes Bartleby to have. On page 8 and 9 Bartleby is described as moonstruck and luny for not complying to the working orders. Perhaps this is a projection of the way the attorney is made to feel by his financial clients.

    These prints do not approach the shiny nervousness and blinding vacancy of the city. Early on, the attorney prefaces. “I am a man who, from his youth upwards, has been filled with a profound conviction that the easiest way of life is the best” (1). He credits this cool attitude with helping him keep peace in the “proverbially energetic and nervous, even to turbulence” of his industry. But after reading 30 pages of this dude talk, I’m not really sure he’s found as much peace as he thinks. The narrator speaks in lawyers syntax, often taking multiple sentences or paragraphs of spinning sentence composition. “Yes, as before I had prospectively assumed that Bartleby would depart, so now I might retrospectively assume that departed he was” (20). It was really exhausting to read, and I found myself really enjoying the patches in the text where Bartleby was talking. They were calming. I’d turn to glitch art to represent the city in Bartleby. Bricks in a digital wall, all rising to the peak of saturation and energy, all to out-done “with submission” by the adjacent bricks, all locked together in a blinding nothing, worth more to stare at in awe than to be a part of unconsciously.

    Here’s something I made to represent how it made me feel.
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1CIGNoKrsieTBRqpUBdGRbS1z1UpojXBM/view?usp=sharing

  4. Karianne Laird

    I find the image of “The Tombs” to be partly contradictory to the atmosphere of “Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story Of Wall-street”. The atmosphere in the story is one of confinement and being stuck – scriveners stuck at their desks, bosses and employees stuck in a rut and city dwellers stuck inside stuffy offices. This mood stands in stark contrast to the open air, rolling clouds and beautiful architecture of the drawing “The Tombs”. Despite the black and white drawing – it is clear that buildings are bathed in sunlight. To me, it feels hopeful and dramatic – unlike the circumstances or society that the narrator inhabits. The narrator states that he finds his chamber, “too far from the City Hall; the air is unwholesome. “ (23). The image’s depiction of a clean and orderly city does not match the narrator’s description of claustrophobia and filth. As I was reading, my mind produced a scene of isolation, busyness and stress that could push people to insanity. Bartleby is the only character who is not trapped. His power is his indifference to the norms and expectations. He is unconstrained by the capitalist system that attempts to control him.

    1. Timothy DeLorenzo

      “As I was reading, my mind produced a scene of isolation, busyness and stress that could push people to insanity. Bartleby is the only character who is not trapped. His power is his indifference to the norms and expectations. He is unconstrained by the capitalist system that attempts to control him.”

      I think this is a great way to put it. It was interesting to see this untethered nature described from the point of view of the employer. I think the attorney wanted to come across feeling like he knew that Bartleby was crazy and that everyone else would meet his account with agreement. But he reads as very conflicted and uncertain if Bartleby is crazy. A thought, do we define our own sanity by others craziness? One could find this mirrored in the instances when the lawyer speaks in negative logic so frequently. “If the individual so resisted be of a not inhumane temper, and the resisting one perfectly harmless in his passivity; then, in the better moods of the former, he will endeavor charitably to construe to his imagination what proves impossible to be solved by his judgment” (10).

  5. Madison Brito

    I find the image of the Tombs to in many ways reflect the mood of Bartleby. The building itself is imposing, and my first thought is that it doesn’t look like a prison at all – and personally, that’s exactly the sentiment I got from the story as well, at least wherever Bartleby is within the building. The massive pillars and clouds looming over the building make everything shrink in comparison, and you get the feeling that the Tombs, or that justice, is somehow looking upon in the city as something powerful and unmissable, its judgement of citizens completely unavoidable, just as it seems to feel to the narrator at the end. While you would think of a prison housing those that misbehave, this image seems to depict the building being the one judging those outside. Bartleby may end up in an ultimate form of confinement, but his presence there is foreboding. Something about the lightness of the building and the darkness of the people outside it seems to evoke this feeling for me as well. While the sparseness of the people outside doesn’t give the same claustrophobic feeling you get from reading, the contrast in colors gives off the idea that those are the real sinners. Yet, you also feel the ‘amazing thickness’ of the walls the narrator speaks of, as if once inside you don’t notice the outside world at all anymore. You get the sense that this world is both unmissable and unknowable to the outside, but completely contained and muted on the inside.

    1. Timothy DeLorenzo

      “The massive pillars and clouds looming over the building make everything shrink in comparison, and you get the feeling that the Tombs, or that justice, is somehow looking upon in the city as something powerful and unmissable, its judgement of citizens completely unavoidable, just as it seems to feel to the narrator at the end.”

      This is really cool. Did you notice how frequently the lawyer used columns as a conceit?

      “For a few moments I was turned into a pillar of salt, standing at the head of my seated column of clerks” (8).

      ““With submission, sir,” said Turkey on this occasion, “I consider myself your right-hand man. In the morning I but marshal and deploy my columns; but in the afternoon I put myself at their head, and gallantly charge the foe, thus!”—and he made a violent thrust with the ruler” (3).

      “But he answered not a word; like the last column of some ruined temple, he remained standing mute and solitary in the middle of the otherwise deserted room” (19).

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