What is bartleby the scrivener about
Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman MelvilleAcademics hail it as the beginning of modernism, but to readers around the world—even those daunted by Moby-Dick—Bartleby the Scrivener is simply one of the most absorbing and moving novellas ever. Set in the mid-19th century on New York Citys Wall Street, it was also, perhaps, Herman Melvilles most prescient story: what if a young man caught up in the rat race of commerce finally just said, I would prefer not to?
The tale is one of the final works of fiction published by Melville before, slipping into despair over the continuing critical dismissal of his work after Moby-Dick, he abandoned publishing fiction. The work is presented here exactly as it was originally published in Putnams magazine—to, sadly, critical disdain.
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Bartleby the Scrivener Summary
Which guides should we add? Request one! Sign In Sign Up. Plot Summary. Bartleby, the Scrivener. All Symbols Walls Dead Letters. LitCharts Teacher Editions.
Like many artists, Melville felt constrained to choose between art and money. The turning point of his career came in Instead, he cultivated a more spiritual language to express the darker, enigmatic side of the soul. Like his letters, Melville's style became tortuous and demanding; his themes questioned the nature of good and evil and what he perceived as upheaval in universal order. His readers, accustomed to the satisfying rough and tumble of his sea yarns, were unable to make the leap from straightforward adventure tale to probing fiction. The gems hidden among lengthy, digressive passages required more concentrative effort than readers were capable of or willing to put forth. Challenged to delve into the perplexities of morality, Melville avoided the more obvious superficialities and plunged determinedly into greater mysteries.
"Bartleby the Scrivener"
Soon, the men are startled by the figure of a woman emerging from the gloom; they discover that it is a sculpture, made from korl the waste-product of iron works by one of the workers, Wolfe. The sculpture, a portrait of a beseeching woman with a spiritual hunger in her face, prompts the men to a long dialogue on justice and inequality, labor and genius. The artist-worker, Wolfe, impoverished and illiterate, shares no language in which to communicate with these men except his gift for representation. His work of art unites the polis, however briefly, in shared contemplation. He dies in prison, apparently by starving himself to death in an eerie premonition along with the clerkly milieu of Kafka.
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.