BARTLEBY: THE SCRIVENER 5
“Bartlebythe Scrivener”is a tragic story by Herman Melville, published in 1853. The story unfolds through the narrator`s eyes as the main character in thetale. Melville uses narration voice of a smug, successful, WallStreet lawyer who delights is doing business with rich men’smortgages, bonds and title deeds. The narrator feels that he haseffectively sheltered himself from life’s more unpleasantsituations, by admitting of being “an eminently safe man,” whodoes business in bonds and mortgages. However, he is bewildered bythe attitude of one of his employees, Bartleby, a scrivener and copytypist. Although Bartleby works industriously, there comes a momentwhen he is asked to fulfill his task and responds, “I would prefernot to.” At first, the narrator is unwilling to confront him, butas the story unfolds, the narrator decides to help Bartleby out,without success. The story reveals the character of the narrator is atolerant person, proud, reluctant, Timid, sympathetic and likeable.
Thenarrator can be described as tolerant because he respondssuperficially affectionate and tolerates the idiosyncrasies of hiscopyists, Turkey, Nippers, and eventually Bartleby. Turkey, thenarrator’s older typist, is an alcoholic, while Nippers suffersfrom digestion disorder and cannot work in the morning. However, thenarrator tolerates these employees, until he hires Bartleby. Thearrival of Bartleby initiates circumstance as it disrupts the “snug”office as the narrator sees it. Until Bartleby’s death, thenarrator tolerates his becomes uncooperative, when refusing toperform his tasks, leave the office/building, or eat by using hissignature, “I would prefer not to.” It is evident that thenarrator is tolerant to the end, because he visits Bartleby in prisonand orders plenty of food for him, as well as, investigates into hispast even after Bartleby’s death.
Thelawyer resents the fact that his employees, Turkey, Nippers, andBartleby disrupts the “snug” office. The narrator holds a goodreputation in the business and he is a heartless man of small vision.However, he resents the fact that his office survives with Turkey,who is sober in the morning and drunk in the afternoon, and Nipperwho is short-tempered in the morning but calm in the afternoon. Atsome point, he has to contain his resentment when Turkey blots hispapers in streaming fury, and when Nippers grinds his teeth and fightwith his hated desk (Bloom, 2008). Furthermore, the narrator alsoresents the fact that Bartleby does not perform his task, begins tolive in the office, and even tries to get him another job but herefuses. Eventually, the narrator decides move the premises toanother location and leave Bartley in the empty office.
Thenarrator at some point denies accountability of Bartley as hisemployee when he decides to vacate the premises. This is becauseBartleby becomes uncooperative and refuses to take all assignedtasks. Even more galling, Barley has no place of residence, and whenthe narrator offers him, Bartley refuses. In addition, Bartlebyannounced that he will not do copying at all, and does nothing butstands mute and expressionless all day long. This situation becomesintolerable for the employers and even though sympathetic to hisplight, he does not understand how to help Bartleby.
Thenarrator’s encounter with Bartleby transforms him to the extentthat he is willing to help him. The narrator also realizes thatBartleby’s situation is becoming worse by day and he ceases beingreluctant like he was, and begins to investigate into Bartleby’slife in order to establish the problem. Thus, the narrator tries tosave Bartleby after realizing that the employee has been dehumanizedby his environment and work.
Inconclusion, Melville’s tale on the tragedy of Bartleby representsthe unknown-ability of human, poverty, widening gap between socialclasses and the growth of the capitalist market. Most importantly,the tale becomes a revelation about the shifting state of abachelor’s soul, by demonstrating how his external realitytransforms his inner reality.
Bloom, H. (2008). Herman Melville: New Edition. New York:Infobase Publishing.