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The Symbolism of Eating and Food in Bartleby, The Scrivener

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“Bartlett, The Scrivener is a memorTABLE story, by Herman Melville, that is TABLE to keep its readers captivated from beginning to end. How does the author successfully grab the attention of his readers? The author utilized his masterful command of the English language to convey the characters, setting, and plot effectively; and in the midst of all the detailed descriptions Melville have used food and the action of eating as powerful symbols. In the story three of the characters have names that are associated with food, and the main character of study, Bartlett, eventually dies of starvation by choice.

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Given the setting of the story was in the onset of the second industrial revolution, the coming of the big corporations where Wall Street was the center Of business activities. TO survive, people at the time had to work like busy little bees serving as motors and gears in the mighty corporate business machines. The character of Bartlett represented the ultimate passive resistance to the onslaught of the wave that was sure to dominate the whole society.

Food and eating was the oil and grease that keep the motors and gears running, Bartlett refused to be part of the corporate machine, he hose complete isolation and maybe that’s his version of freedom. Symbolism as a literary element has been widely used. The Webster dictionary defined symbolism as “the art or practice of using symbols especially by investing things with a symbolic meaning or by expressing the invisible or intangible by means of visible or sensuous representations as artistic imitation or invention that is a method of revealing or suggesting immaterial, ideal, or otherwise intangible truth or states” (Hacker. 011). As a masterful writer of literature, Melville used symbolism to create the physical setting, the bleak and mundane law office environment. In the law office there are four other characters other than the lawyer, the story narrator; they were Turkey, Nippers, Ginger Nut and Bartlett. These four characters, flesh and bone in the body, but lacked the dynamics of round characters, they have been created with a very narrow set of attributes. They were striped of the regular human emotions and were created merely as puppets to assist the delivery of other symbolic means.

The names of Turkey, Ginger Nut and Nippers were hemolytic nicknames the characters had of each other, they fit their physical and personality characteristics. On a deeper level the lawyer may also hinted that they were insignificant figures, the leaver never even used their real names and their real names were never introduced, they were just a few of many scriveners in the lawyer’s memory. Turkey is a short and overweight English man around 60 years old.

He is named turkey because when he is angry his neck would turn red almost resembles a turkey. His mood changes as sure as time would pass day after day. He is very effective in the morning and becomes less and less so in the afternoon. He would start getting easily distracted and frustrated maybe due to intoxication. Turkey had a troubled state of finance can be perceived as someone of being caged by the repetitive work yet has not been TABLE to improve his living standard. Turkey wears clothes that “look oily and smell of eating houses. (Melville 125) Even when the leaner tried to give him an used, but nice looking coat, Turkeys response was described as “precisely as a rash, restive horse is said to feel his oats, so Turkey felt his coat, restive horse is said to feel his oats, so Turkey felt his coat. ” (Melville 1 25) Through these descriptions the author hinted that the employees were just modern day copiers, repetitively performing the same tasks day after day, like animals that only needed food to keep working but too much food may cause them to be resistive or lazy.

Nippers is a young man, about 25 years old, who suffers from indigestion but always eats cakes and ginger nuts. Compared to “Turkey” which is a name more obviously associated with food, the name “Nippers” more symbolizes with the fashion Nippers consumes food, basically nips food at a time. (Eric) He feels bad every morning, and regains focus and efficiency in the afternoon. Nippers and Turkey are quite complimentary as the narrator explains, almost are a match made in heaven only if they Were of one person instead.

The name Of Nippers is just a tool, here used to refer this young man with problems that only allowed him to be 50% effective as an employee. Ginger Nut is a child of 12 years old, named by a cookie “Ginger Nut”. His father send him here with a good wish of wanting him to learn some law. However he spend whole day on cleaning, buying cakes and apples in return for only one dollars worth salary. His work in the law office is described as “contained in a nut shell. (Melville 125) This could be contributed to the fact that Ginger Nut’s work was mostly about satisfying demands from Turkey and Nippers for food. Bartlett, described as “placidly neat, pitiably respecTABLE, and incurably forlorn” (Melville 126) only eats the cookies Ginger Nut brings day after day, no coffee, tea or anything else of other flavor. The Lawyer thought Bartlett might be a sectarian, a highlight of his interpretation of Bartlett was: “My mind then ran on in reveries concerning the probTABLE effects upon the human constitution of living entirely on ginger-nuts what was ginger?

A hot, spicy thing. Was Bartlett hot and spicy? Not at all. Ginger, then, had no effect upon Bartlett. Probably he preferred it should have none. ” (Melville 129) The author actually wanted to shows Bartlett was already at a stage of disengaging himself from the material world. Bartlett only consumers what is necessary to survive no flavor nor abundance was desired. Bartlett eventually stopped eating altogether while in prison even when the prison staff was asked by the lawyer to ensure enough food was availTABLE to him.

Barley’s decision to stop eating was the ultimate show of passive resistance to the material world. His reasons to disengage maybe due to his constant confinement to the bleak and unnatural world Of Wall Street or due to his Old job as a dead letter processing clerk. Whatever the reason for Barley’s decision to disengage from society, it was mostly evidenced by his response of “l prefer not to… ” And his decision to stop eating. The employees are meant o be normal people, however they were only referred by their nicknames instead of their real names.

They live near the bottom of societal ladder, they have many personal problems and yet must continue to serve as motors and gears in the corporate business world. They are indeed parts in an increasingly mechanical world. The author described the world through detailed descriptions of the setting. The character of the world of work and business is most often illustrated via physical description of the landscape, such as of the bleak and unnatural walls of Wall Street of which Bartlett instantly stares at and is trapped in.

Cite this The Symbolism of Eating and Food in Bartleby, The Scrivener

The Symbolism of Eating and Food in Bartleby, The Scrivener. (2018, Feb 01). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/essay-the-symbolism-of-eating-and-food-in-bartleby-the-scrivener/

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