Bartleby the scrivener summary and analysis

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bartleby the scrivener summary and analysis

Bartleby the Scrivener: a tale of Wall Street by Herman Melville (1 star ratings)

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Herman Melville and "Bartleby, the Scrivener"

The narrator, an elderly lawyer who does a comfortable business helping wealthy men deal with mortgages, title deeds, and bonds, relates the story of the strangest man he has ever known.
Herman Melville

Bartleby the Scrivener Summary

The Lawyer begins by noting that he is an "elderly man," and that his profession has brought him "into more than ordinary contact with what would seem an interesting and somewhat singular set of men the law-copyists, or scriveners. Bartleby is, according to the Lawyer, "one of those beings of whom nothing is ascertainable, except from the original sources, and, in his case, those were very small. Before introducing Bartleby, the Lawyer describes the other scriveners working in his office at this time. The first is Turkey, a man who is about the same age as the Lawyer around sixty. Turkey has been causing problems lately.

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A regular employer of law-copyists over a thirty-year period, the elderly and conservative narrator, who remains unnamed, reports on a singular young man who once worked as a scrivener in his law office, which specializes in legal paperwork, notably bonds, mortgages, and title-deeds.
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Bartleby the Scrivener

Bartleby the Scrivener, by Melville (Analysis & Interpretation)

In the story, a Wall Street lawyer hires a new clerk who, after an initial bout of hard work, refuses to make copies or do any other task required of him, with the words, "I would prefer not to". Numerous critical essays have been published about the story, which scholar Robert Milder describes as "unquestionably the masterpiece of the short fiction" in the Melville canon. The narrator is an elderly, unnamed Manhattan lawyer with a comfortable business in legal documents. He already employs two scriveners , Nippers and Turkey, to copy legal documents by hand, but an increase in business leads him to advertise for a third. He hires the forlorn-looking Bartleby in the hope that his calmness will soothe the irascible temperaments of the other two. An office boy nicknamed Ginger Nut completes the staff. At first, Bartleby produces a large volume of high-quality work, but one day, when asked to help proofread a document, Bartleby answers with what soon becomes his perpetual response to every request: "I would prefer not to.

This story, in its most basic, stripped-down form, is a simple one: a successful lawyer, in need of assistance, hires a new scrivener a kind of human Xerox machine to join his small firm. Enter Bartleby, a quiet, initially efficient, anti-social little man. Bartleby proceeds to work well as a copyist, but refuses to help out with any other office tasks — or rather, he simply "prefers" not to. The lawyer and his other employees are shocked, but Bartleby just won't do what they ask. Bartleby is always in the office, either working or staring out the window at a facing wall, and it turns out that he actually lives in the office. Eventually, this refusal grows more bizarre, when Bartleby announces that he will no longer work as a copyist — but prefers simply to stay in the office and not do any work. Finally, he is firmly asked to leave…but he just doesn't.

2 thoughts on “Bartleby the Scrivener: a tale of Wall Street by Herman Melville (1 star ratings)

  1. Bartleby, the Scrivener Summary & Analysis from LitCharts | The creators of SparkNotes

  2. It is not rare, sometimes it is even common, that an author speaks about his or her self in their works.

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