The limits of pity in Bartleby and Moby Dick

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Abstract

Failures in the emotional connection between doctors and their patients tend to be reported in terms of compassion fatigue, burn-out, secondary trauma and depression in overlapping and somewhat interchangeable ways. In Moby Dick and Bartleby, Melville interrogates the culturally accepted descriptions of pity and explores the reasons for the limits in human pity he observed and depicted. In an attempt to understand whether the feelings of pity that a patient's suffering can evoke in physicians are sustainable, desirable, or counter-productive, Melville's narratives, along with that of a woman who, while living with advanced cancer experiences the breakdown of a key medical relationship, will be considered.

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