Passive Resistance in Bartleby, The Scrivener by Melville

A nonviolent opposition to authority better known as a passive resistance. In “Bartleby, The Scrivener” by Herman Melville, it can be seen being used by the main character Bartleby. With his famous quote “ I would prefer not to”. Indicating that he would not participate in anything outside of his job description as just a scrivener. With no hesitation, I believe that this subtle passive resistance displayed by Bartleby is due to the under-appreciation of Scriveners. Being underpaid and overworked, this was Bartleby's way of saying enough is enough.

In the story “Bartleby, The Scrivener” the lawyer hires Bartleby after advertising the position available. After acknowledging his credentials, for the given job Bartleby would be accompanied by a mediocre pay of 4 cents per one hundred handwritten words. This pay would be considered mediocre to what the lawyer himself would be making in comparison. In fact, all of his workers would be underpaid, Turkey would never receive enough fund to buy nice things, and Nippers would work side hustles to bring in extra funds for commodities.

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Not only… but also this work would soon begin to take a toll on the young Bartleby. Only being twenty-five years of age his eyesight would begin to perish from the constant straining in the darkness of a room only illuminated by deemed candle lights. The seemingly everlasting isolation of the makeshift cubicle room had also taken its effects, sometimes finding Bartleby to be stuck in a glare out of his window into that of a dark and aged brick wall.

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Lastly, the separation of employers and employees would be to great for Bartleby to overlook. Bartleby was believed to be the lawyers greatest asset or most valued worker. Being able to work for hours without break, never complaining, always on time and providing consistent quality work in return for minimum pay. His passive resistance and gloomy appearance caused all of his competencies to be overlooked. These factors all contributed to his reasoning of continuing his passive resistance. In hope of the passive resistance getting through to the lawyer in the story “Bartleby, The Scrivener” Bartleby tells the lawyer he will no longer write and when asked why Bartleby replied “ Do you not see the reason for yourself ” Showing his “glazed and dull eyes”.

In conclusion, it would be suggested that the cause of his discontinued works and passive resistance was by the under-appreciation and dehumanization of scriveners. Scrinevers were treating like machines only to soon be replaced by one in the near future. It is believable that Bartleby himself knew of this new era to come showing behaviors in reflection of all others during the nineteenth-century anxieties and resisted the fact of this idea for his exact reason.

Updated: Feb 20, 2024
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Passive Resistance in Bartleby, The Scrivener by Melville. (2024, Feb 20). Retrieved from

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