The Transcendentalists and the Dark Romantics were the two major literary groups of America’s literary coming of age. The transcendentalists believed in transcending everyday, physical human experiences and objects, in order to determine the reality of God, the universe, and the self. Transcendentalists, led by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, believed in the good of man, and held a very optimistic view of the world and mankind. This directly clashed with the Dark Romantics; they felt that everything had a darker, more evil side, and the depravity of man. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, and Herman Melville were the leading men of the Dark Romantics. Although both sides shared the same Romantic beliefs, they differed greatly on their views of the goodness of man. This clash in belief results in distinguishable differences in the texts of both sides, yet each one can be applied to the other. Bartleby, of Bartleby the Scrivener, exhibited many transcendental qualities and the l results of those beliefs; therefore, the Transcendentalists would view Bartleby as one of their own kind.
The Transcendentalists wanted to get away from the corruption and dirtiness of the city to the innocence and universe-revealing qualities of the countryside. The reader is led to believe that Bartleby is a pathetic man because of the dehumanization effects of the city. Transcendentalist felt that the city was bad-human beings in it can only be harmed. Bartleby had the potential to be a great man. Perhaps he was, in his own right, but society never got to see it. The job of a scrivener is repetitive and monotonous. “With consistency a great soul has nothing to do,” remarked Ralph Waldo Emerson. Bartleby’s job was consistent, and there seemed to be no change, as are the majority of jobs in the city. Bartleby was metamorphosed into a “soulless” man.
Emerson once said, “Pythagorus was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus”¦ and every pure and wise spirit that ever took to flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.” Bartleby was a true nonconformist, with unforeseen consequences. His nonconformity perfectly fits into the mold of Transcendentalism. Like Henry David Thoreau, Bartleby is not accepted by society; his nonconformity is strange and unwelcome in society. Transcendentalists believed that nonconformity was a reflection of and needed for understanding what goes on around us.
Bartleby practices self-reliance, another quality that was heavily praised by Transcendentalists. In a way, Bartleby shares a strange resemblance to Thoreau. They both are non-conformists, are not positively received by the world, practice simplifying life, and practicing self-reliance. Bartleby not only has simplified his life; he practices austere self-reliance. Like Thoreau, Bartleby is living on “borrowed” land, and he provides for what he needs, with very few forays into the city.
Some people think that Bartleby the Scrivener is a mockery of Transcendentalism. Bartleby possesses many of the transcendental qualities, yet he does not seem to find happiness. But, if Bartleby had not been dehumanized by the city, and had lived in an unindustrialized area, one can only suppose that he would have become a strong leader of Transcendentalism. The horrors of the city and Dead Letter Office are what turned him away from love, and gave him a bitter outlook on mankind. Yet, perhaps if he had traveled out to nature, and seen and enjoyed the wealth around him, his life could have been dramatically different. Transcendentalists would have embraced Bartleby in their rich beliefs, and restored life back to him.