Essay: Demise of Bartleby the Scrivener

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Bartleby Scrivener

Bartleby is described as "the strangest" scrivener the narrator has ever encountered in his long career. Thus, the narrator foreshadows Bartleby's eventual demise long before he enters the office. The reader anticipates the entry of Bartleby, especially after the narrator describes Turkey, Nippers, and Ginger Nut. After these three less-than-perfect employees, it would seem Bartleby would appear less strange than they are. Yet Bartleby remains a man of mystery. The first physical description offered about Bartleby is that he was a "a motionless young man," which bears direct testimony to the title character's personality traits. Bartleby's physical characteristics make him well-suited for the profession of law scrivener, for the job is itself tedious, repetitive, and "motionless." The narrator also notes that his first impressions of Bartleby were that he was "pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, incurably forlorn."

Not simply foreshadowing but direct inferences to the outcome of the story provide some clues as to how Mellville's story will end. Bartleby is not merely "motionless," he is "singularly sedate." His "young" age is absolutely ironic given the catatonic state in which Bartleby conducts himself. It is as if the man is already dead when he reaches the office. Bartleby does not speak; he is eerily "quiet," and performs his job robotically. The narrator describes Bartleby as working "silently, palely, mechanically." The only words Bartleby utters are those he will repeat again and again during the brief course of his employment: "I would prefer not to."

Bartleby's face is "leanly composed," which does foreshadow his eventual death by self-starvation. The description of Bartleby's limited diet of ginger nuts also presages the manner by which Bartleby's body deteriorates. His eyes are "gray" and "dimly calm," which allude to Bartleby's deathly visage. Bartleby's face is also "pale." The narrator describes his mouth as being "white" and "attenuated." Interestingly, Bartleby does not exhibit any emotion whatsoever; he has a flat appearance and "not a wrinkle of agitation rippled him." Bartleby's face is more expressionless than a statue. Later, the narrator describes Bartleby as a "ghost" and an "apparition." His countenance is "immovable." He dresses in a ghost-like manner with "a strangely tattered dishabille." Essentially, Bartleby was figuratively dead long before his body actually perishes.

The narrator's reaction to Bartleby is as remarkable as Bartleby himself. It is the narrator's perplexed paralysis that drives the narrative forward and engenders sympathy for the title character. The narrator explains his reaction to Bartleby. He is touched by the scrivener's irregularly flat affect and his dull temperament: "there was something about Bartleby that not only strangely disarmed me, but in a wonderful manner touched and disconcerted me." In fact, the narrator describes Bartleby's voice in musical… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Demise of Bartleby the Scrivener.  (2010, August 2).  Retrieved September 20, 2019, from

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"Demise of Bartleby the Scrivener."  August 2, 2010.  Accessed September 20, 2019.