The Deterioration of Bartleby vs. J.B.

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“Can we be men and make an irresponsible ignorance responsible for everything?” (123) In Bartleby’s case, his ignorance and apathy are largely responsible for his eventual death. He regresses mostly by choice. He is ultimately in control of his situation and outcome. J.B., on the other hand, has no control over the sudden, tragic events that have consumed his life. He actively searches for answers to the unexplainable tragedies he experiences. Both Bartleby and J.B. deteriorate with time, but for different reasons. Bartleby’s deterioration is a product of his apathy and isolationism while J.B.’s deterioration is caused by the sudden tragic loss of his loved ones and sense of purpose. Initially, Bartleby and J.B. both seem to have typical lifestyles. Bartleby seems eager to do “an extraordinary quantity of writing.” He is “famishing for something to copy.” (648) He accomplishes what is expected of him without protest. J.B. is at the culmination point of his life. He expresses his gratitude for the healthy, fulfilling life he has lived and does not credit it to luck. He is certain that he has gained well being because “God was on [his] side” and “was good to [him].” (35) Neither character shows any sign of degeneration up until certain points at which their lives begin to shatter. Bartleby is negatively impacted not by what he does, but by what he chooses not to do. He begins to noticeably lack enthusiasm in his performance at work as he copies “palely [and] mechanically.” (649) He soon after becomes a victim of his own passive resistance. He becomes known around the office for the paradoxical phrase, “I would prefer not to,” illustrating his unwillingness to work without blatant refusal. (649) His motives are a mystery to those around him. Like a dead letter, he seems to lose his purpose in life and alienates himself from humanity.

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