Depression: Then and Now

So, I’m going off topic here, but I think it’s still relevant to the class because the issue of depression is a neurological issue that we haven’t really talked about. Hopefully this makes sense, but I’m still working through my own thoughts about the readings, maybe someone can help.

The first time I was taught Bartleby I was taught that this story depicted a very American idea, after all written by a one of the greatest American writers. It’s supposed to show us that you could do everything you possibly can for someone and it still not be good enough, or so I was taught. It’s also supposed to be reminiscent of biblical references. Where the lawyer is sort of a God figure and Bartleby is just a regular person.

After reading through the story again with all the information I have from this class the story seemed to mean something completely different. Although I do think the story does reflect American life I saw differences in the characters themselves.

The mental state of Bartleby seems to be shaky. I’m not a doctor so I can’t say if it’s depression or anxiety or whatever the case is. But the fact that he keeps repeating, “I would prefer not to” appears to be a repetitive phase like “I’m okay” or something bordering “good” mental health. Bartleby this time around appeared to be infantilized. He doesn’t complete the tasks asked of him and his response to everything is “I would prefer not to.” He kind of sounds like a teenager and not an adult.

In “The back of my own head” by Alberto Rios also seems to have the essence of depression perpetuated throughout the short story—a topic we haven’t really discussed—but is also a neurological phenomenon. The story is about a woman who’s husband was taken away from her or “stolen” as the story states. She goes into a serious state of depression which we can tell when she says, “I have been without energy, have been robbed not just of my husband, but of myself as well” (Rios 62).

The same essence of depression is noted in Bartleby as well, but probably more subtle because it is an older text. When asked to examine his work the lawyer says, “Will you not speak? Answer! ‘I prefer not to,’he replied in a flute-like tone.” This seems to me that Bartleby lost any ambition he once had. The lawyer is obvious angry and demands an explanation but Bartleby always replies the same “I would prefer not to.”

2 Comments so far

  1.   Krystal Dillon on November 8th, 2016

    I dont know if the repetitive phrase of “I would prefer not to” is necessarily an indication of depression. It seems to me to be just what it is, a statement of preference. Just like we analysed the ways in which Tito exercised his preference (preferring the large mirror over the handheld one, or buttoned shirts as opposed to t-shirts) Bartleby’s statements may be read similarly. I think what we should interrogate is the ways in which Bartleby genuinely does not want to do certain things (talk about his personal life or analyze documents he has transcribed). I think by seeing I prefer not to as a marker of depression we are doing what the narrator did which is see his moments of difference as an abnormality. In a sense the author sees Bartleby’s preference as defiance and as illogical, but it is only illogical by our ‘neuro-typical standards’. Maybe Bartleby has legitimate reasons for not doing things, I think thats where the focus should lie.

  2.   Radheeka Sharma on November 22nd, 2016

    I have to agree with Krystal on this one. Even though, there may be some indication of depression, we don’t know enough to assume that. I think we would have to know more about his life to know or suspect if he has depression. After learning about his previous job with the dead letter could give some hint to his past or his emotions, we still do not know enough. You did have an interesting connection between Rios’s story and “Bartleby” though!

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