Bartleby the Scrivener essay samples

A stupendous piece of literature by Herman Melville, “Bartley, the Scrivener” is a short tale that exemplifies the theme of how an individual is able to feel ever lost and alone; even when amongst others who are actively working in the same environment as themselves. This theme of loss and alone not only pertains to Bartleby as an individual but also to the rest of the characters in the story. This is especially the case for Bartleby and the lawyer. They are described in little detail, almost solely being described as individuals that are going about their days in a monotonous fashion. Their jobs, daily routines, personal poor habits, and social interactions are shown as if these men were no more than machines repeating the same things day in and out; going in what seems like no direction with their lives at all. This would, of course, make them, effectively speaking, lost and alone. They are going about the journey that is their lives in a lonely manner that does not proactively attempt productive interactions with others.

Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener”
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In Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener," Melville displays the life of a person, named Bartelby, who does almost nothing with his life except write. Even latter in the story, Bartelby gives up writing and on life itself. Melville's story brings up two major themes, which include writing and freedom. The story revolves around scriveners whose job it is to constantly copy documents and in a sense become a slave to writing. Bartelby, though one of the scriveners, resists the command to…...
Bartleby The Scrivener
Bartleby The Scrivener: Literary Analysis
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Bartleby the Scrivener could be referred to as a story about eliminating its title character, about the narrator's attempt to get rid of Bartleby, and Bartleby's solid capability to be constantly there. It is the story of an unnamed attorney and his staff member, Bartleby, a copyist of law files. Faced not just with Bartleby's rejection to do work (first to "check out" copies against the original, then to copy entirely), however also with the contagious nature of the specific…...
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If ever there are two opposite themes offered in the telling of one tale, it is in Herman Melville's short story, "Bartleby the Scrivener". As his perspective swings between the objective and subjective, so swings the theme from comedy to tragedy. Regardless of the two perspectives from which Herman Melville relates the story of Bartleby, the telling of a tragic story with humorous subjectivity, the story's plot and outcome determines the categorization. In fact, had Melville not peppered the story…...
Bartleby The Scrivener
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The narrator's initial self-characterization is important to the story. He is a "safe" man, one who takes few risks and tries above all to conform. The most pragmatic concerns of financial security and ease of life are his priorities. He has made himself perfectly at home in the modern economy: he works as a lawyer dealing with rich men's legal documents. He is therefore an opposite or complement to Bartleby in many ways. He is also ill suited to be…...
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Bartleby as a Person

Bartleby becomes heavily affected by this and falls into a negative spiral which continues to plummet downwards until his death at the end of the story. This plummeting counited downward throughout the duration of the story because the discourse between others is what leads him down a path of loneliness. A particular sense of disconcertion between the workers and the lawyer is as well present, however, when it comes to the relationship he holds with Bartleby, things become slightly different. For one it can be seen that the lawyer has some sense of responsibility or even care for Bartleby. The uniqueness of the lawyer’s relationship with Bartleby is easily spotted by the lawyer himself. He even states, “there was something about Bartleby that not only disarmed me, but in a wonderful manner touched and disconcerted me” (Melville 37). While a special relationship is present throughout the story, the common theme of loneliness still persists. This begins to grow when the lawyer learns that Bartleby is not afraid to tell his boss that he does not want to do the work he is given.

This starts off with Bartleby being very selective with what assignments he would say he’d rather not do and begins to grow with virtually all the assignments being issued to him. This was a shock to the lawyer for he had never had an employee tell him that they would not follow directions being given to him. The lawyer tolerates this behavior for quite some time due to being both intrigued by such a statement and do to his sense of responsibility for Bartleby. The lawyer can now clearly be illustrated as a man who is trying to keep the success of his business while trying to find a balance to help Bartleby as a person. Little does he realize that his actions are simply advocating a behavior that continues to practice and exemplify a theme of growing disconnect and loneliness for Bartleby, and eventually his demise.

Boss vs. Compassionate Human Being

Through the lawyers telling of the tale, the reader will find many aspects of hardships that these characters entertain. One of the hardships placed upon the lawyer is his position as a boss versus his stance as a generous and compassionate human being. The lawyer, as a boss, is supposed to stand as an individual who is able to exemplify qualities of leadership, firm direction, and confidence. These three qualities are completely lost to him when particularly considering how he treats Bartleby. Bartleby undermines the lawyer’s position as his boss by ignoring his directions and abusing the leniency given to him by his boss. This lack of control over his employees holds true for his other scriveners as well. These two sides to the lawyer hold in opposition to each other. In order for one side to be true, the qualities of the other side must subdue their own qualities. In other words, for the lawyer to be a successful boss in his business he must stop being so lenient to Bartleby, and optimally have tighter rules with his other scriveners as well. This two-sided performance of his is noted by Sheila Post-Lauria, the author of “The Example of Herman Melville’s Bartleby, The Scrivener: A story of Wall Street”, for in this article in can be read how the author is able to identify the lawyer’s two-sided mentality towards Bartleby “Bartleby, portrays a double story: the tale of the lawyer’s involvement with his employee Bartleby and the tale of the narrator’s relation to his subject” (Shelia 2). This statement helps to present the dichotomy between his two contradictory perspectives.

Contradicting the Ideals of Capitalism

This state of mind is not only relevant to his relationship with Bartleby but with his other employees and his position on his work as well. In this story, the reader can find themselves to understand how Bartleby might just represent a force of relation against the ideals of capitalism. This would make sense of course as we already know that it is more than apparent how even though the lawyer wants to help Bartleby, he inevitably gets rid of him from his place of work. This removal of Bartleby would intern allow the lawyer to regain some control over the workplace he began to lose authority over and reinstall a successful program that will allow him to profit once more. It is due to this playing out in the story, finding Bartleby to act as an embodiment for a retaliation against such a capitalistic ideal what be very probable. This is an important aspect to understand because now the argument can be made that Bartleby is merely a victim as the ideals of a capitalistic regime. The lawyer himself can now also be argued as a pawn of this capitalistic regime because of the decisions he has to make as an individual that is forced upon him by the standards of society and the cash-based success, he willingly chooses to aspire towards rather than to ultimately help a fellow human in need. This decision made by the lawyer must be understood, not as a decision that was simply always going to end up in a capitalistic and more selfish choice. Rather it was a choice made by a man who was forced to challenge his mundane and monotonous work in returns for financial growth, because of his own humanity compelling him to take show mercy towards a person in need.

One of the aspects of the lawyer mentioned many times already is how he has two contradictory sets of minds. This theme of contradiction is prevalent to further understand the positions that not only the lawyer is in, but also to help understand the positions of Bartleby and the other characters in the story. The reason understanding these places of contradiction is so important amounts the lawyer is because his final decision of choosing business over Bartleby does not add up with his character. For one, the lawyer is long experienced in his work and is now in a place where he is operating his own business. He could competitively progress in this capitalistic game and become a very aggressive and driven boss in his firm. Yet there are evident facts from the story stating how he could not care less to push forward with the success of himself and his business. As the lawyer himself states, “the nature of my avocations for the last thirty years has brought me into more than ordinary contact with what would seem an interesting and somewhat singular set of me” (Melville 367). This subtheme of contradiction relays back to the main theme of being alone and lost. Here the lawyer is saying how after his thirty years of work he is in a position that he finds interesting yet describes nothing of value or pride in where he is now. Almost as if he was just going through the movement of his success, similarly to how Bartleby and the other scriveners monotonously go through their own work. These all these men seemingly have no drive for their livelihoods, nor do they act like one ought to in their positions.

This stands particularly true for the lawyer. The reason it holds so much more for the lawyer in regard to his employees is that of his position. He has thirty-years experience in his field of work and now holds the title as boss of his own company yet does not yearn for more capitalistic gain. The lawyer does not act like a typically experienced boss either. As he states, he goes about his days very easily. While he spends his day alone in his office not minding much attention to his employees, he fully admits that many others in his position that he is aware of are actually very aggressive and filled with a drive to obtain more financial success (Melville 368). This is a complete contradiction of the man we understand as the person who chose business over Bartleby. This is also further indicating how many people in the story are dealing with a personal problem in their life that is directing them to act one way while feeling no inclination to actually move in that direction, at least with any momentum or passion as the lawyer clearly lacks. This lack of motivation suggests the lawyer is very comfortable with his current position both financially and in his career and is now so laid back in his work ethic that he does not belong in his position because what his position demands is everything he no longer strives for. This is an important example of how this personal issue of self-contradictory creates a mindset and an environment where the boss stays in his room, secluded from his workers. Allowing for lenience’s in work ethic between both himself and his employees is a failure of responsibility on his part.

Bartleby and The Original Occupy Wall Street

Everything that should not be happening is occurring simply because he is supposed to act as a boss yet does not. This lack of responsibility and laziness on his behalf only feeds to the main theme of the story. Without him to aggressively pursue success and keep his employees properly managed, he only adds to the lack of connection between his men and therefore the loneliness that he and Bartleby have felt so many times. As stated in Shelia’s writing, “Stressing the emotions over analysis, sentimental fiction in Harper’s refigured suffering, abuse, poverty, and exploitation into romantic portraits of pathos and beauty by disengaging characters from their environments.” (Shelia 2). Here Shelia can help readers correlate how the depiction of these qualities in these characters are establishing a direction loneliness and disconnect between the lawyer and to his employees in the work environment. Even though the lawyer is a pawn to the capitalist game, as he has been pushed into his position via following a repetitively mundane path to some given level of success, he is not innocent in the part he played by setting up an environment that enables such bad work behavior and social loneliness. The lawyer probably feels responsible to help Bartleby not only for the reasons that one of his two-sided mindsets is very distraught over feeling bad for a fellow person in need but also because as a boss he might understand in the back of his mind that he failed him as that business’ leader.

The business that takes place with the men surrounds them and encompasses their everyday lives. This massive investing ocean known as Wall Street is the type of environment were investors and various venture capitalist from all over the world challenge themselves to dismantle any competition in their way and strive for more money via successful trades. The competition is fierce, people are aggressive, and the most successful individuals have high capital and a potent desire for success. Add a number of decades of experience with technical knowledge of the field and a person can become a top end investor with due time. This describes everything that Bartleby is not. Bartleby is a person who is lazy and has no practical direction for trying to excel in his career or even finish his given assignments, which he continues to say no to the lawyer about completing. It is ironic how they work in the Wall Street setting. Not only because none of their personalities fit the field that they all work in, but with Bartleby specifically the symbolism of the wall connects in various forms. The various forms of the symbolism of the wall also support the main theme, and how Bartleby feels alone and separated from others.

One form of the symbolism of the wall is how Wall Street itself is only able to provide an environment that is completely unsuitable to Bartleby’s personality. This unsuitability is a restriction that exists only because it becomes routine for them to join a trade in which only those with personal qualities suited for a capitalistic setting will succeed. This restriction can also be seen with the separation of the wall between Bartleby and the lawyer’s office. In either case, Bartleby is alone and wandering aimlessly about his job because of restrictions being put in his way by a capitalistic society. Regina Dilgen is the author on “The Original Occupy Wall Street: Melville’s ‘Bartleby, the Scrivener’” states for readers, “there is no possibility of communication, but only barriers to understanding, only walls on Wall Street” (Dilgen 1). This point further supports the idea that Wall Street and those that dare play in its game are bound to face restriction of communication and direction from others. From this, the reader can also find even more support to the main theme that the people in this story, whose careers are resting in this field of restriction and loneliness, are bound to experience what it is like to truly become separated from others.

Lawyer’s Mistakes

This disconnect from others is what the lawyer has been helping create, even before Bartleby’s entry. He doesn’t know his employees very well, and what he does know about them isn’t very good. He knows his men have personal problems getting in the way of their work and he continues enabling them by excusing their behavior. With his employee Turkey, for example, an older man with drinking problems that declines his work ethic as the day reaches into the afternoon. Here we can even see Turkey making excuses for himself while his boss offers to reprimands and further cementing himself as a poor businessman and leader; “Surely, sir a blot or two of a warm afternoon is not to be severely urged against gray hairs” (Melville 370). This, of course, is not the only incident of both an employee not working to their full extent and the lawyer fails to hold the authority of his position inside the business. This is seen multiple instances with Bartleby who refuses to do more and more assignments by the day. One instance of his famous line and this ordeal between boss and employee occurring here with Bartleby stating, “I would prefer not to” (Melville 382). At this point, the number of supporting claims and evidence should be more than clear to the reader that neither the lawyer, Bartleby, and the other employees have no desire to pursue greater depths of success for the future of their careers and certainly do not try to undertake their own positions in the company seriously. By now the reader is more than familiar with how the lawyer’s two-sided mentality on Bartleby and the other employees is a dichotomy that only hurts his business; as well as the being a failure to his employees by not acting like their boss and instead of acting like a friend. This subtheme has also been spotted out by Dilgen, for in Dilgen’s article it is stated, “It suggests that a business establishment has responsibility it does not acknowledge” (Dilgen 3).

Thus, further suggesting that the lawyer may realize that these negative behaviors and personal problems are just causing a lack of success from not only a profiting stance, but as well as a stance on what is good for a human, and one’s responsibility with their given duty or authority. Speaking of keeping responsibility, what may be their duty as religious men? The reader will know of course that the lawyer is a religious protestant. This is something to note because he holds onto his beliefs with great strength. The same cannot be said about Bartleby. Bartleby is not a religious man, and in the eyes of the lawyer, he sees just that. Being a religious Protestant in the capitalistic setting made the lawyer require himself to uphold an adequate work ethic while establishing enough capital to secure himself financially. This is important to note because even though his work ethic is not great at this point in the story his other values as a faith-filled Protestant still stand true. As a Protestant, he must have a strong capital in order to properly be viewed as a good holy Protestant. At the same time, he is tasked to help others with little or none of their own; to help those who truly need it. However, with Bartleby continuing to abuse his generosity, the lawyer is forced to contemplate on what he should do. To keep covering for Bartleby and provide him a home at the office while risking the expense of his capital or to simply let him go at this point?

Herman Melville’s Narrative

It is fair to say that Herman Melville’s, “Bartley, the Scrivener” is an excellent piece of literature that challenges the way the reader thinks. This narrative of Melville’s work is particularly well suited for exemplifying how disconnected people can feel from others while still being a part of their routine lives. His work in this piece of literature also props forth other subthemes in the story that exists not simply because they stand as symptoms of the main theme of loneliness and discourse, rather they stand as possible reasons for why the main theme even exists. This, of course, is shown with the idea of how capitalism is making these men go into a field that they clearly are not fully and properly suited for. This is accurate in at least some regards because at this current time in the story these men show no signs of desire or aptitude for true success in the world of Wall Street. Their characters as individuals are challenged as well.

For all the characters hold flaws that assist their poor behavior of discourse between one another. This of course even further enables Bartleby to feel growingly more strained from any social relations with anyone. From Turkey’s poor personal habits of drinking and slacking off in the later parts of the workday, to the lawyer challenging himself as a boss, a human, and a Protestant just trying to figure out how to best handle this slowly growing problem. These growing problems and various array of themes in the story make for a compelling and intriguing piece to read. Yet an imperative question still remains. Knowing what is known now about the many themes in the story, how they played out, and how they affected the character’s decision making, what can we say about the final choice the lawyer made against Bartleby? In the end, an argument can be made in either direction that the decision he made was either fair and long coming to Bartleby, or that what happened to Bartleby was simply a shame and a burden that the lawyer should have barred. Or at the very least handled in a more caring and different fashion from how he actually did in the end. Whichever view of the opinion the reader sides themselves is up to the reader. It is interesting to note that after all that occurred, the way this story began was the way it ended, with the lawyer and Bartleby being surrounded by others yet feeling total lack of connection with anyone else. Just a sense of being lost and alone, for both Bartleby in death, and for the lawyer who continues to live.

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