So today in class we began discussing our readings from Marx and Engels, especially the subjugation of the worker and what the meaning of the product created. All of this reminded me of a little story written in 1853 by Herman Melville called "Bartleby, the Scrivener." For those of you who haven't read it, or who have forgotten it, this is how it goes:
The title character, our Bartleby, works in office essentially as a human copy machine. He rewrites important documents so that all his bosses can have copies for meetings, and finds his work less than fulfilling. As the title suggests, Bartleby's occupation identifies him as a person, until he becomes wholly and irrevocably one with his job. He is nothing else except a scrivener. One day he decides he's had enough, but instead of going into work and destroying the office supplies in an empty field (à la Office Space), he simply and civilly refuses to do any work, responding to any order with the words, "I'd prefer not to." Eventually Bartleby loses his job, winds up in prison, and is surrounded by people who think he's insane. At the end of the story, we discover that Bartleby once worked a dead letter office--the place where all lost mail ends up. As readers, we're left wondering if it was Bartleby's redundant, meaningless work that deprived him of his sanity.
Considering this in a Marxist context, we can see the idea of labor product equaling laborer in relation to Bartleby's downfall. Considering that his job would eventually be replaced by technological photocopiers in the distant future, in a modern context, we can see his work as inhumane--it is literally the work that can be done by man-made inventions... Bartleby is dehumanized.
Keep in mind the Marxist passages about how "the worker's activity is not his spontaneous activity...it belongs to another; it is the loss of his self. As a result, therefore, man (the worker) no longer feels himself to be freely active in any but his animal functions" (767). In the story, it is as if Bartleby was able to look outside of himself and the meaningless work he was doing, and tries to put an end to the mechanical habits of his job, taking control of his own actions. But when he does this, he winds up crazy and dead.
So one could make a case that Bartleby exemplifies what happens when this assumed law according to Marx is contradicted: an overall downfall.
But also following a main point from today's discussion, does this really matter? Does this theory really apply to literature? And even if it does, how can it function beyond these intangible words from a dead communist?
With that in mind, you could try to apply these theories to real life, or you could just prefer not to.