Herman Melville (1819-1891) was one of the greatest American novelists, essayists, and poets of the 19th century, along with Nathaniel Hawthorne. Melville, who received little attention during his lifetime, rose to prominence in the 1920s and is generally regarded as one of the highest figures in American literature. Maugham considered his Moby Dick to be one of the world’s top ten literary masterpieces, ranking higher than Mark Twain and others in its literary history. Melville is also known as the “Shakespeare” of America.
In “Bartleby, the Scrivener”, Melville, through the interpretation of Bartleby’s silent struggle, powerfully responds to the over-optimistic transcendentalist worldview and expresses his own different views. Transcendentalists believe that “god is merciful, and nature is an incarnation and symbol of god, as well as the embodiment of god’s mercy; The soul of man is divine, so man’s nature is good, and he is one with nature.” And for Melville, nothing is absolutely good or absolutely evil. Emerson’s transcendental optimism does not really help the development of individuals in a vast society. The power of individuals is small, unable to fight against the society. Emerson is only describing to us an ideal state of human life, which can never be reached, but a castle in the air, which is desirable but unattainable.
In addition, Melville was deeply influenced by biblical stories. Not only did many of the characters in Moby Dick take their names from the bible, but he was also influenced by the simple ecological views of the bible. In the bible, although nature is god’s tool to punish human beings, human beings have to overcome the harsh natural environment in order to survive outside the garden of Eden, but this does not mean that human beings have to conquer and transform nature in order to survive. In fact, the bible calls for careful control of nature, not unbridled conquest. In addition to giving man the right to rule the earth, god demands that man must protect and nurture nature which espouses most of Melville’s thinking and shaping of plot lines.