Posted: August 12th, 2013





1) How do you think Milgram would explain Bartleby’s behavior? Use specific examples from Milgram’s essay, p 948. Use specific examples from “Bartleby.

Stanley Milgram a social psychologist writes about obedience in his work entitled the “The Perils of Obedience”. A comparison between his writing and that of Bartleby he Scrivener by Hermann Melville seeks to determine how Milgram would explain the behavior of Bartley. Milgram would simply say that Bartleby is disobedient. This is because Bartleby, on several occasions, refused to do his boss’ bidding all the time claiming that he would prefer not to do what was expected of him. Milgram suggests that obedience is expected of us by society; however, he questions the legitimacy of being obedient. In the case of Bartley, he would claim that Bartleby has acted differently from most people.

In an experiment carried out by Milligram, adults are very keen on delivering on orders assigned to them. Few would stand against authority especially when they feel something is wrong. He continues to explain most of his subjects would carry out orders even if whatever they are doing feels wrong and poses danger to other people. A subject confessed that he never thought he would be able to obey orders even though he knew it was in violation of his principle. Most people in situations where authority is being exerted would do away with their free will. Bartleby, on the other hand, would not agree to do anything his boss asked of him. In this regard, Milgram would conclude that he was exercising his free will by doing or not doing what is right for him. Milgram looks at Bartleby as the embodiment of freewill. The present society has created an army of people following orders no matter what they are. This is because the consequences of one’s actions lie in the one issuing orders. People have detached themselves from reality of humanity. Bartleby is a reminder that people should be willing to stand for what they believe in.

2. Compare and Contrast Orwell’s behavior in “Shooting the Elephant” and Bartleby’s behavior in “Bartleby.”

Orwell’s behavior and that of Bartleby are extremely different. Bartleby’s decisions are not guided by what he is ordered to do. Orwell, despite thinking that shooting the elephant was wrong, goes ahead and shoots the animal. The situation seemed to him like murder to shoot the elephant. His strong belief against killing the elephant does not seem to be enough to dissuade Orwell against the action he was about to take, yet the crowds pressure makes him yield. Bartleby, on the other hand, is adamant and does not yield to his boss and colleagues pressure to work, as they desire.

Bartleby has a passive demeanor about him. His boss claims that no matter how much he reprimanded him, he always seemed fine with every thing. All he would say, was “I would prefer not to”. His nature did not drive him to anger, and he never showed any form of feelings toward aggressive actions toward him. In sharp contrast, Orwell’s behavior betrays a temperament in his character. He reveals that he resented the fact that he was hated, and it angered him that the Burmese people laughed at him.

Orwell is more obedient to authority than Bartleby is. Orwell shot the elephant because it was the right thing to do according to the procedure. He did this though he felt it was wrong and later justifies his actions as being legal, and that the elephant had to die because it killed a man. Bartleby the scrivener, on the other hand, is disobedient and insubordinate to authority and does whatever he wants. For example, he locks out his master out of his establishment and suggests that he takes a walk until he is done with what he was doing. This happens when his boss being early for church decides to check into the office and find Bartleby.
3. How free is the will of the individual within society? Explain this carefully using examples from the above three readings assigned.

According to the writings of Stanley Milgram, the free will of the society is pegged to those who hold positions of power. Those who work under other people bend to their will. Subsequently, the justification of actions carried out by these individuals is transferred to the authorities. When such action is evil, the actions are attributed to the one giving the order and the responsibility for actions evaporates. Therefore, Milgram proposes that free will with regard to people’s actions is non-existent.

Looking at Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell, free will again is dependent on the existing state of affairs. George Orwell harbors negative feelings about his role it the British Imperial empire, but he is unable to air his grievances because of the likely repercussions. The freedom to choose what to do is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of what the society expects. For example, in his heart he understood that shooting the elephant was wrong, but his desire to meet the expectations of the crowd outweighed his personal convictions.

In the final writings by Herman Melville, he reveals that the freedom to do what one wants will meet some restrictions. Bartleby’s boss does not fair well when he loses control over his employee. He is stunned by the fact that Bartleby is ever so willing to go against his directions. The boss tries to remain calm, but he always finds himself pushed to confront Bartleby. What all these three texts reveal is that free will in the society is conditional. Free will is acceptable only if the actions put forth by individuals are acceptable to the society. Any action going against the expectations of society is considered strange.
4. Finally, how could you better your position if placed in a similar working situation where you would “prefer not to?”

In contrast to Bartleby, when confronted with a situation where one would prefer not to do something, it would be important to express a reason as to why that is the case. Bartleby made the situation worse by shunning enquiries from his boss as to why he always turned down his requests. He was non-responsive to what he was being asked and this made his boss more aggravated each time. In addition, it is necessary to let one’s employer know what one is comfortable with doing and what would be unacceptable in a work situation. This will help make things easier, because one would remind the boss of a pre-employment agreement that exempts one from certain duties.

Free will is important and necessary for happiness. If one feels that doing something goes against their principles, it is important to make the known and remove yourself from such situations. In the case of Bartleby the scrivener, if he were unhappy with the task he was being given; it would have saved his boss and himself the agony of a confrontation every time such tasks were accorded. The right thing to do is to quit in such a situation and look for better circumstances where one will be happier. The other option would be to give into the demands of the boss to avoid confrontations. This will make the work environment better and more enjoyable to work in. The texts have provided a valuable lesson into the role of free will in society. The texts reveal to humanity how they have become slaves to the expectations of the society. The challenge is letting go of the imaginary bonds that limit our ability to exercise free will.


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