Bartleby the Scrivener: Lawyer Double

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Bartleby the Scrivener, by Herman Melville is a novella about a nameless lawyer who has in his employ a scrivener named Bartleby. Bartleby, throughout the novella, has different periods of work. In the beginning, he does his scrivening without reprimand or without hesitation, but as the novella progresses his attitude toward work changes drastically. Mordecai Marcus’ critical essay on the novella makes some good points, such that Bartleby is a psychological double for the lawyer, he represents a subliminal death drive within himself, and the conflict between absolutism and free will. All three of these points are attributed to Bartleby because he represents each respectively.

In Mordecai Marcus’ critical essay on Bartleby the Scrivener, he takes the stand that Bartleby is a psychological double for the nameless lawyer. While progressing through the novella, Bartleby begins to slow down and eventually stops working altogether. The Lawyer doesn’t know what to do mainly because, “Bartleby’s power over the lawyer quickly grows as the story progresses.” (Marcus 1) When the lawyer first hired Bartleby, he was a tenacious young worker, “There was no pause for digestion. He ran a day and night line, copying by sunlight and by candlelight.” (Melville 16) This is in the beginning of the novella right after the lawyer had hired him. Bartleby, to the lawyer, doesn’t seem to have any other ambitions rather than scrivening for him. But all of that begins to change when Bartleby begins to not want to do some of the tasks the lawyer asks him to do. The first instance of this is when he is asked to proofread one of the copies he just completed, “…rapidly stating what it was I wanted him to do – namely, to examine a small paper with me…Bartleb...

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...ast. But again obeying that wondrous ascendancy which the inscrutable scrivener had over me…” (Melville 44) Again, the lawyer is amazed at the amount of “power” Bartleby has over him. Bartleby, without actually doing anything, has taken away most of the lawyers’ free will and in turn feed his own absolutism.

The novella is set in New York City in a Wall Street law office; both Bartleby and the lawyer represent characters of New York. Bartleby represents a type of person who is excited to come to a new city but then gets ground down into the daily routine of the city and begins to loose the will to work. The lawyer, on the other hand, represents the quintessential New Yorker, owning his own business and trying to succeed in a city that is famous for crushing spirits. Both Bartleby and the lawyer represent true characters within the fabric of the city of New York.

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