In democratic ages men rarely sacrifice themselves for another, but they show a general compassion for all the human race. One never sees them inflict pointless suffering, and they are glad to relieve the sorrows of others when they can do so without much trouble to themselves. They are not disinterested, but they are gentle.
- Alexis De Tocqueville
(www.cybernation.com)

Compassion is an innate quality that is found within human nature, and is expressed to those in the form of a helping hand to people who are financially and emotionally troubled. However, each individual may have a different limit towards the amount of compassion that one can show to another being. In Herman Melville’s story, "Bartleby, the Scrivener", Melville is showing the reader that each individual does have a limit, when it comes to expressing compassion towards other beings. Melville also shows that this limit is different for each individual, when he talks about how each of the characters interact with Bartleby.

The story of "Bartleby, the Scrivener" begins with the narrator identifying himself as a man who is "filled with a profound conviction that the easiest way of life is best". This very attitude towards life in general, suggests that the narrator cannot be too compassionate towards other beings because showing compassion and providing support is hard work emotionally and physically. To be compassionate, one must be able to understand the inner workings of the unfortunate soul, so that one can help fix the problem. Thus, the narrator does not have the experience or the spontaneity to help others because all who know him, consider him to be "an eminently safe man" (2330). However, one must note that as the story progresses, the narrator does push his boundaries towards helping Bartleby, but ultimately fails because he does not take the time to understand Bartleby.

There is no doubt that the narrator is a compassionate person because he puts up with the antics of his employees. One of his employees is an old man named Turkey, who handles himself well in the morning, but in the afternoon becomes insolent. Any other person would have fired Turkey, when he becomes insolent towards his fellow workers and clients, but the narrator generally leaves him alone. One can conclude that the narrator is weak, and being a ‘safe’ man, he decides to let things be the same in order to prevent a conflict, but this is an incorrect conclusion. The narrator could have fired Turkey, which would have prevented a conflict as well as resolving the issue regarding Turkey’s attitude, but the narrator chooses to keep Turkey.

Although one can say that the narrator is compassionate, one must also take into account the extent of his compassion. In the scene where Bartleby refuses to help examine the paper, the narrator backs away from a confrontation. He says, "I looked at him steadfastly. His face was leanly composed; his gray eye dimly calm. Not a wrinkle of agitation rippled in him" (2336). The narrator does not know how to handle the situation because he could not find any human qualities within Bartleby. Therefore, he plays it safe and avoids the confrontation by proceeding to other matters. This scene helps show the narrator’s limits because by playing it safe, he is not helping Bartleby, but instead delays the inevitable confrontation. Thus, one can argue incorrectly that the narrator has a weak character, when in reality he is looking at the world with a different perspective, and therefore is not able to understand the needs of Bartleby.

It is easy to see that the narrator is a compassionate man, although many would argue that he is weak. He allows his employees to be themselves, and tries to reign them in when they go too far. Thus, when Bartleby refuses to help him and the others examine the documents, he avoids a confrontation. However, the others are quick to judge Bartleby. This is seen when Nippers says, "I think I should kick him out of the office" (2337) while Turkey says, "shall I go and black his eyes?" (2339). Neither of these characters attempt to understand Bartleby, and if they had their way, they would have fired him immediately. This shows that the limit of their compassion towards Bartleby is very short, and it