Bartleby: “I prefer not to,””I prefer not to,” also tells the reader about Bartleby isolatinghimself. The phrase shows his lack of involvement, another form ofisolation. The narrator tells the reader exactly what he did toBartleby, very vividly, as shown below.
In the novella, the author tells the reader, down to the smallestdetail, what he did to Bartleby to isolate him from the world. Hetells us in this passage, “I placed his desk close up to a smallside window in that part of the room, a window which originallyhad afforded a lateral view of certain grimy backyards, andbricks, but which, owning to insubsequent erections, commanded atpresent, no view at all, though it gave some light. Within threefeet of the panes was a wall, and the light came down from farabove between two lofty buildings, as from a very small opening ina dome. Still further to satisfactory arrangement, I procured agreen folding screen, which might entirely isolate Bartleby frommy sight, though, not remove him from my voice.” The quotationdescribes how the narrator secludes Bartleby from society. Evenhis window, usually a form of escape, results in Bartleby beingtrapped behind another wall, thus reinforcing his totalisolation.
The irony lies in the fact that the narrator, while trying toisolate Bartleby, becomes affected by it, so much so that heappears almost human. Instead of dismissing him on the spot forrefusing to copy, proofread or leave the premises, he tries tofind other employment for him, and even considers inviting him tolive in his residence as his guest. The narrator develops beforeour eyes into a caring person, very different from the cold,unsympathetic person at the beginning of the story. “To befriendBartleby, to humor him in his strange willfulness, will cost melittle or nothing, while I lay up in my soul what will eventuallyprove a sweet morsel for my conscience.” The narrator wouldnormally befriend Bartleby or any other “sucker,” but Bartlebyhas given him a conscience. The narrator has realized that acommon blemish in a person does not determine the person. In thebeginning of the novella, the narrator only cared about his work,but now he realizes that people have a life outside of work,except Bartleby. The narrator then changes into a caring person,and tries to know Bartleby, and his odd ways, even going the extrayard to help him. In the end, the narrator tries to save Bartlebyfrom his doing, Bartleby’s undoing, Bartleby’s isolation.
In conclusion, in real life, the strange are always isolated fromthe normal. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, blacks were isolated,or segregated, from society. Now, many people are isolated:retarded,ugly, “uncool,” the deformed, and people with contagious, deadlydiseases. In Bartleby’s time, the strange were looked down uponor ridiculed at (as in Freak Shows), so Bartleby isolated himselfandpermitted others to isolate him from society. Eventhough thenarrator isolated Bartleby, Bartleby brought the isolation uponhimself by living an abnormal life. By not fitting intomainstreamsociety, Bartleby left himself open to isolation. The threeliterary elements, symbolism, descriptive passages, and irony,described how Bartleby’s isolation from society fit in thenovella. Jawahrlal Nehru said that isolation is dangerous, as inBartleby’s case. Isolation can drive a person insane, make himmute, or even kill him. The theme is not to let yourself succumbto the prejudice of others, and let yourself be isolated.