Many Views of Melville's Bartelby The Scrivener

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All literary works are written from a specific standpoint. This standpoint originates from the mind of the author. The author, when creating his literary work, has a specific diagram/plan and vision of what the story is supposed to convey. However, not all readers will interpret the literary work in the way that the author him/herself has presented it. Many times, in fact, the audience will perceive the literary work as having an entirely different meaning than what it was meant to have.

The short story, Bartelby the Scrivener by Herman Melville, has been reviewed by several different critics as having several different standpoints. These standpoints include Bartelby as a Psychological Double to the Narrator, an apostle of reason, having biblical ties, and as being Melville himself. A personal standpoint that proves to be different than those that have come before it is to perceive the story, Bartelby the Scrivener, as a story of family. Of all of these views and interpretations of the story Bartelby the Scrivener, none can be perceived as correct, except by the author. Furthermore, none can be seen as incorrect because literary works, unlike visual works of art, leave us the option to imagine. In fact, our interpretation of another critic’s thesis is merely a product of our views on their standpoints. I say that only to justify that we are able to formulate our own opinions and form our own thesis just by reading the words on the page.

Bartelby as a Psychological Double

The critic of this standpoint is Mordecai Marcus. He feels that Bartelby is a paralleled character or a “psychological double” of the narrator. In his criticism of Bartelby the Scrivener, he writes:

“I believe that the character of Bartelby is a psychological

double for the story’s nameless lawyer-narrator, and that

the story’s criticism of a sterile and impersonal society

can best be clarified by investigation of this role.” -

“Bartelby appears to be the lawyer chiefly to remind him

of the inadequacies, the sterile routine, of his world.”

(College English, pg. 68)

Marcus is trying to say that Bartelby and the narrator have a sort of inter-connection. Not as two separate entities, but as two separate personalities residing in one, viewing life from separate standpoints. ...

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...s audience, I cannot limit myself to just these theories. Countless other theories can be formed on the actual theme of the story. I truly believe that Melville had those intentions, not only for this story, but also for all the stories that he has written. Literary works are meant to be examined and interpreted by the individual reading it. Authors produce the material. All we are required to do is produce the imagination and personal understanding of what has been presented before us.


1.) College English, Vol. 23, No.5, February, 1962, pp.365‐68

2.) Indian Journal of American Studies, Vol.4, Nos. 1-2, June and December, 1974. Pp.66-71.

3.) Meyer, Michael The Bedford Introduction to Literature, Library of Congress Catalog

Number: 98-85194, copyright 1999 by Bedford/St. Martin.

3.) Reference Guide to Short Fiction, 1st ed., edited by Noelle Watson, St. James Press,


4.) Short Stories for Students, Gale Research, 1997

Key: (as cited in the paper)

(IJ of AS) – Indian Journal of American Studies

(BI to L) – The Bedford Introduction to Literature

(RG to SF) – Reference Guide to Short Fiction

(SS for S) – Short Stories for Students

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