Essay: Bartleby the Scrivener Herman Melville's Short Story

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Bartleby the Scrivener

Herman Melville's short story, Bartleby the Scrievener is revolving around the theme of alienation. Most of the action takes place in an office building, in New York, in the middle of the nineteenth century. The head of the office is the master of Chancery. He is also the narrator. His employees are an office boy and three law-copists or scriveners among whom, the latest he offered the job, Bartleby: "In answer to my advertisement, a motionless young man one morning, stood upon my office threshold, the door being open, for it was summer. I can see that figure now -- pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, incurably forlorn! It was Bartleby"(Melville).

The relationship between the head of the office and Bartleby, although promising at the beginning, soon deteriorates by the strange behavior Bartleby displays when asked to perform the simple job of checking his own work.

The relationships the boss has with the other three members of his office are also rather peculiar. The author chooses not to reveal the real names of the other two scriveners, unfolding only their nicknames. These are the result of what they were calling each other in the office. Turkey and Nipper are two opposite temperaments, not very easy to handle, as their boss. The narrator introduces the sort as: "an interesting and somewhat singular set of men, of whom as yet nothing that I know of has ever been written: -- I mean the law-copyists or scriveners" (Melville). Surprisingly enough, the life of scriveners although dull in appearance, constitutes the subject for a story. Everything in Melville's story is centered upon their lives around the office, nothing from their life outside the office being revealed.

The narrator introduces himself as "one of those unambitious lawyers who never addresses a jury, or in any way draws down public applause; but in the cool tranquillity of a snug retreat, do a snug business among rich men's bonds and mortgages and title-deeds" (Melville).

The two initial clerks, Turkey and Nipper and Ginger Nut, the office boy, as characterized by their own bosses words are rather normal human beings, doing their job with various degrees of industry and not prone to attracting the sympathy of the public. Turkey is sixty years old, has probably always worked in the business as a small clerk and seems to be very fond of drinking ale. This is also the cause of his sloppiness, after lunch time. He is tolerated because he is the same age as his boss and touches some cords of compassion. Nipper is younger, maybe a younger version of Turkey. He does not arise any sympathy at all. He is very passionate about his work, and described by his boss as always willing to surpass his duties, but not very useful in his rush to prove himself. He seems, however to balance the lack of coordination that is so precious to the work of a copist, Turkey always displays in the afternoon. In reality, the two are useful to the office of the Master in Chancery only half the time they spend there. The boss is tolerating them and tacitly agreeing to pay two men to have the results of one. The young office boy, who is only twelve is briefly described and seems rather the idea of what all of them must have been in their childhood, when they aspired to find a comfortable job better than what their parents must have held.

They all work in an office building, in New York, all the windows facing brick walls or shafts.

Bartleby comes into this world that is not perfect, but appears to be functioning as the one hope of summing the qualities an industrious scrivener. He will soon prove to be the worst a boss can wish for. He will just refuse, plain and simple, to perform certain jobs. His attitude is offensive in his refusal, but he is also displaying an emotionless composure. His boss will find it difficult to simply dismiss him from his duties, as anyone would have done under the circumstances. The reader is already aware that he is compassionate and tolerates behaviors in the other two scriveners that may lead to their being let go if an employer should choose so.

His current boss… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Bartleby the Scrivener Herman Melville's Short Story."  Essaytown.com.  March 4, 2009.  Accessed August 20, 2019.
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