Bartleby the Scrivener, Herman Melville
Commonly held up as an anti-capitalism story, this is actually an anti-Bartleby story. The usual argument is that this story presents the repetitive work of nineteenth century capitalism as dehumanising. Bartleby is taken as a talisman for resistance as a political philosophy.
And yet, Bartleby does nothing. His resistance is not for any purpose. He spends most of the story motionless, as imprisoned in his office as he later is in jail. The narrator pays for him to eat better meals in jail but it makes no difference to Bartleby. All he does, all he ever does, is look at a wall.
Resistance is supposed to be done in the name of life. For the anti-capitalist argument to work, it needs to be an argument in favour of vitality. But Bartleby is by far the least vital character in the story in every aspect right down to his pallid complexion. Even the worker who is named after his love of ginger nuts is more alive and vital than Bartleby.
At the end, Melville makes a metaphor of Bartleby out of the dead letter office. He is a dead person, with no aspirations, no pleasures, no engagements with the world. It is screamingly obvious that being a scrivener would be better than being nothing. Being a letter is better than being a dead letter.
Conceive a man by nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness, can any business seem more ﬁtted to heighten it than that of continually handling these dead letters, and assorting them for the ﬂames? For by the cart-load they are annually burned. Sometimes from out the folded paper the pale clerk takes a ring:—the ﬁnger it was meant for, perhaps, moulders in the grave; a bank-note sent in swiftest charity:—he whom it would relieve, nor eats nor hungers anymore; pardon for those who died despairing; hope for those who died unhoping; good tidings for those who died stiﬂed by unrelieved calamities. On errands of life, these letters speed to death.
Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!
The message is clear. You have to act to live. Bartleby is a dead letter. Someone who could have made a difference to the world but didn't. The story may or may not have a clear moral view on whether this was by choice or not, but it's clearly wrong to lionise Bartleby as a hero of the resistance.
He represents the failure to live.