IJLLL 2017 Vol.3(4): 174-180 ISSN: 2382-6282
DOI: 10.18178/IJLLL.2017.3.4.129

The Uncanniness of the Death Instinct in “Bartleby”

Tianyu Ma
Abstract—This paper examines Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener” alongside Sigmund Freud’s “The ‘Uncanny’” and “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” It argues that Melville’s title character is uncanny due to his exemplification of the universal death instinct. Throughout the story, the narrator represses his recognition of Bartleby’s humanity and tries to keep him hidden, and these actions indicate a denial of the developing pseudo-paternalistic relationship between himself and the scrivener. Such a relationship is a corruption of Freud’s “double,” the central mechanism of his model of reproduction. This mechanism is driven by the sexual instinct that Bartleby clearly lacks, and in its absence he manifests the universal death instinct, as exemplified in his repetitive responses of “I would prefer not to,” which ultimately leads him to his inevitable death.

Index Terms—Death instinct, double, uncanny.

Tianyu Ma is with Department of English, Washington University in St. Louis, USA (e-mail: mat@wustl.edu).

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Cite:Tianyu Ma, "The Uncanniness of the Death Instinct in “Bartleby”," International Journal of Languages, Literature and Linguistics vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 174-180, 2017.

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