I just read Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Tale of Wall Street. The first two-thirds struck me as a humorous account of an eccentric employee, told from the business owner’s point of view. (I hear many such stories in my work as an executive coach to CEOs.) My impression shifted toward the end, as the narrative darkened into a tale of thwarted compassion for a hopeless innocent. It remains in my awareness as a poignant and contemporary warning of the isolation so casually tolerated in our commercial environments. Though Bartleby’s plight was beyond the ability of the well-meaning narrator to avert, better treatments are available today and most of the people in your office are reachable with as cheap an elixir as a smile, a lunch invitation, or a patient ear. Life ends too soon and suddenly to risk our kind communications going the way of the dead letters Bartleby sent to the flames, though they contained: “pardon for those who died despairing; hope for those who died unhoping; good tidings for those who died stifled by unrelieved calamities.”
Read Bartleby, the Scrivener here or download the MP3 here.