ENG16: Materialist Americas
17th December 2007
Compare and Contrast the representations of work in Bartleby the Scrivener and Microserfs. To what extent has work and the meaning of work changed? To what extent are there continuities between earlier and later forms of work?
Bartleby and Microserfs are quite similar in their representations of work and characters. We have the Narrator or ‘Lawyer’ in Bartleby that tells us the story of the irresolute clerk who is isolated from the people he works with and society, just as Bartleby is, yet through Bartleby he begins to have a higher level of understanding of others. He is undoubtedly similar to Dan, the narrator of Microserfs, who introduces himself by way of his email address, three pages into the text ‘I am email@example.com’(Coupland, 2004, p.3) followed by what his categories in Jeopardy! would be. I believe this says a lot about what Dan thinks about himself.
Dan seems to shun the technicalities of having a personal identity and defines himself through his work, his favourite topics, brand names and his lack of stock. He is a ‘loser’ because he has no stock, because he is not Bill, because he is just a tester, because he is new to love and doesn’t understand how to make it work, because he cannot sleep, yet he still considers himself ‘too well adjusted’ to be working at Microsoft. ‘I am 26 and I’m just not ready to turn 31.2 yet.’ (Coupland, 2004, p.15) He wants more from his life but doesn’t know what, or how to achieve it. His tentative relationship with Karla is akin to that of Lawyer and Bartleby. ‘To befriend Bartleby, to humour him in his strange wilfulness, will cost me little or nothing while I lay up in my soul...a sweet morsel for my conscience.’ (Melville, 1990, p.13)
Karla is tiny, thin and dissatisfied with everything. She makes life harder for Dan in a way, with her constant questioning of his values and views, and then makes it easier because he begins to define...