Are You Ready to Make a Major Change in Your Art?Bartleby the Scrivener is an American character who has been in books, movies, and TV shows since the 16th century. He has been portrayed by many actors, most notably, Samuel L. Jackson's role in Malcolm X. The Bartleby of the title was the one who made the statement to his employer, the departing customer, 'This note is to be rejected.'
In 1992, Morgan Freeman portrayed him in the movie Casablanca, where he said the line 'This letter is to be refused.' While movie audiences may not have seen the original version of this story, Thomas Pynchon, who wrote Under Milk Wood, described it accurately. It was a scene that changed how the writer felt about art in a major way.
The scene was how Bartleby sat before the 'grub,' the store owner, and went over his letter with such as emotion that the reason for his refusal became clear to the Grub, but also, when the Grub took his money and left the store, Bartleby knew that he had made a choice, which was, the writer has a family, or money, both of which, of course, are of equal importance. The situation changed everything for the writer, for the way he saw himself, and for his vision of art, and so this scene changed Pynchon's view of what it meant to be an artist.
Pynchon explains that he was 'outraged' at the choice he had made, and felt that it hurt the reader. He had previously decided that the Grub should have accepted the letter, because the act, as is often the case in society, would have the Grub work harder, to make the best use of his time, which would increase the Grub's respect for the artist. With this change in circumstance, however, the Grub refused to accept the letter, and Pynchon was forced to find out why.
Pynchon explains that he was able to solve the mystery by having the Grub make another choice, to refuse to take Bartleby's money. The Grub's decision 'changed everything' for Pynchon, because the Grub's decision was the artist's own choice, and the Grub was forced to make another choice, from the standpoint of art, which Pynchon believed would require Bartleby's death. He felt that the Grub had been holding back information, something he didn't want to do. When the Grub refused to take Bartleby's money, however, it was all explained, and he no longer needed to find out why.
Pynchon explains that he wasn't acting from any 'principle,' he was merely reacting to the emotional situation in which he found himself. He believes that to make a decision like this, there must be a situation in which to make the choice, and that there must be a negative reaction to the situation, or it wouldn't matter if the writer wanted to act from principle. However, in this case, the Grub refused to take Bartleby's money, and it was the writer's own choice, which meant that he would have to act, and it did, with a dramatic effect on the novel.
So, as Pynchon explains, the change in attitude was due to circumstances, and not from principle. This was a paradigm shift for Pynchon, as he realized that the circumstances had changed, which had altered the choice. The Bartleby essay topics presented here will aid you in thinking about the issues of trust, love, and being a writer, so that you can create new circumstances, for yourself, that will enable you to 'act' from principle, rather than emotions.