The Unveiling of Masks Essay

Deep in the collective conscious of every culture lays a fascination with physical or metaphorical alterations through the use of masks. Traditionally, masks have been an indispensable part of religious expression, the performing arts, and the battlefield. The many uses have been adopted to assist in becoming someone other than themselves. In our society the term, mask, may be used as an allegory to indicate a hidden agenda or to identify a false perception that is given to the world by someone.

It may be characterized as our id, from Freud’s logic, taking over when we unconsciously revert to our defense mechanism of proving that we are strong enough to survive any challenges; even though underneath our masks we are overwhelmed and weeping in frustration. Masks are described in Carl Jung’s theory of multiple archetypes in his essay “The Personal and The Collective Unconscious. ” Furthermore, archetypes are used to identify and unveil the masks worn by the narrating lawyer in Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener. The contents of the collective unconscious by Jung are represented in the lawyer’s character symbolized through three masks: God Complex, Father Complex and Mother Complex. The narrator’s persona evolves into masks from the God Complex to the Father Complex and ending with the Mother Complex. At first the narrator described himself as “an ambitious lawyer who never address a jury, or in any way draw down public applause; but in the cool tranquility of a snug retreat, do a snug business among rich men’s bonds and mortgages and title deeds” (56).

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This quote indicates that the lawyer held high respect for himself in only associating with wealthy men of business. He was very proud of his promotion to his High Court of Chancery, which could seem to suggest that of a God complex. In addition, the narrator did not seem to consider the complimenting issues his two senior copyists presented at work a challenge but rather found a creative solution. “I made up my mind to let him (Turkey) stay, resolving nevertheless to see to it that during the afternoon he had to do with my less important papers” (59).

By this the lawyer states that he has everything and everyone under control and only he has found a solution to the issue, thus creating a better than everyone attitude—that of a God complex. However, once Bartleby joins the lawyer’s team of copyists the God Complex is challenged and he begins to morph into a perhaps lesser complex, that of a Father Complex. Once the main character comes into the story the lawyer’s persona changes drastically from a “larger than life” God Complex to a patient and compassionate father-like figure and enters the Father Complex.

The lawyer says, “At first Bartleby did an extraordinary quantity of writing. As if long famishing for something to copy, he seemed to gorge himself on my documents” (62). This proves that Bartleby was considered an accurate, responsible and dedicated employee. The lawyer took Bartleby under his wing as a son-figure as soon as he demonstrated qualities that reminded him of a younger version of himself. But then, a shift of command was indicated when he asked the lawyer to “perhaps, walk around the block two or three times and by that time he would probably have concluded his affairs” (68) and the lawyer complied.

Even after multiple attempts by the lawyer to reason and even be stern with Bartleby, our main character still refuses his demands allowing for the power to shift from the lawyer to Bartleby. He manipulates the lawyer just as a child can manipulate his father when they are spoiled. The shift of power becomes evident when the lawyer says, “For the first time in my life a feeling of overpowering stinging melancholy seized me. Before I had never experienced aught but a not unpleasing sadness” (70).

At this point, the lawyer is emotionally engaged in a father-son relationship and we can see the transference of a father figure onto Bartleby by him. However, the lawyer will transform into yet another persona and take on the Mother Complex. It seems that Bartleby is preferred over the other copyist. Bartleby seems to escape every time he was asked to perform a simple job function. The lawyer confronts him: “Bartleby, said I in a gentle tone, come here; I am not going to ask you to do anything you would prefer not to do – I simply wish to speak to you” (71).

This quote, this unconventional rejection to perform duties every time Bartleby answers, “I prefer not to” and the lawyer not being firm represents the point where the Father Complex turns into the Mother Complex. By using a gentle approach and nourishing tone the narrator demonstrated the change once again in this archetype, and used motherly instincts as to sooth and comfort a child in distress. Furthermore, the lawyer even attempts to stop enabling Bartleby by asking him to leave the office multiple times. After you have removed your things from these offices, Bartleby, you will of course lock the door – since every one is gone for the day but you- and if you please, slip your key underneath the mat, so that I may have it in the morning” (75). Here, the narrator indicates a scenario where a mother is showing tough love. The desperation in the lawyer’s actions resembles that of a mother when she has tried every possible means to assist her troubled son and he continues to show no progress.

Some may say …. However, this explanation has flaws because …. Thus, showing that the masks…. When speaking of masks, the first thought that comes to mind is that of a disguise either literal or figuratively, a desire not to reveal what truly underlies beneath. Bartleby is described as a lifeless, emotionless man who isn’t afraid of greeting the world with out a mask. Unlike the majority of society he was true to himself from the time he decided to stop working as a copyist till the end.

Although in the lawyer’s eyes Bartleby’s passive resistance did not allow him to save him from his self destruction, it was clear that Bartleby was complacent with his decision of not conform to society’s dos and don’ts. Throughout the journey the narrator unveiled some of Jung’s archetypes such as the God Complex, Father Complex and the Mother Complex or the multiple masks that were unconsciously layered. Bartleby’s eccentricities are what saved the lawyer and taught him a life lesson of continuing his journey while being true to himself.

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