Bartleby of Bartleby the Scrivener

Bartleby of Bartleby the Scrivener

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Herman Melville’s short story “Bartleby the Scrivener” introduces many interesting characters with many different personalities to us. However, out of Ginger Nut, Turkey, Nippers, and the Old Man who narrates the story, the one that is most mysterious to us is Bartleby. Bartleby is a scrivener, which, in simple terms, is a human version of a modern day copy machine. He does his job extremely well, hardly ever stopping his work and getting things done quickly and efficiently. However, he is a man of few words. In fact, he is a man of one phrase: “I would prefer not to.” He says this in response to anything that is requested of him other than to copy documents. He actually outright refuses to do anything else that his boss (the narrator) asks him to do. This is the first step in confusing the reader about Bartleby. Melville, however, never seems to offer an answer to this mystery. Another interesting thing that I noticed was that Bartleby never said “I will not.”, but “I prefer not.” This would indicate that the person he is talking to has an option as to choosing what Bartleby will or won’t do, but it is said in such a way that it manages to confuse the narrators feelings, and causes him, for a long period of time, to simply accept the statement as a “no”. This appears to me as a weakness of the narrator as a business owner, but at the same time makes me wonder what is Bartleby’s purpose for responding in such a way. Another interesting characteristic of Bartleby is his living habits, which we find out about later in the story. He apparently lives at the office (originally unbeknownst to the narrator). He sleeps, washes, and works in the same place. What makes this even more interesting is that he refuses (or states that he would “prefer not”) to change his living arrangements. When the narrator moves his business, and Bartleby refuses to vacate the premises after the new tenant arrives, the narrator is taken to be responsible for Bartleby, simply because he is the only person who is even close to knowing him. After a lengthy process that ends with Bartleby in prison, who seemingly regards the narrator as the reason for his being there, the story quickly closes with the demise and death of Bartleby, and the strange introduction of the “grub man” (who seems as though he has some deeper importance in the story which I cannot place).

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At the conclusion of the story, the narrator speaks of discovering a job that Bartleby had as a worker in a “dead mail” center, and he proceeds to compare dead mail to dead men. I can only assume that Bartleby may have had some mental affliction caused by his last job that caused him to enter some psychologically disturbed state. As for a true and definitive reason for the mysterious life and actions of Bartleby, I am completely in the dark.

 
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