Bartleby, the Scrivener

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He writes day and night, often by no more than candlelight. His output is enormous, and he greatly pleases the Lawyer. One day, the Lawyer has a small document he needs examined.

Bartleby the Scrivener, A Story of Wall Street.

He calls Bartleby in to do the job, but Bartleby responds: "I would prefer not to. Instead, he calls in Nippers to examine the document instead. Take the 'Bartleby the Scrivener' Quick Quiz. Melville Stories by: Herman Melville. Character List Bartleby. Themes Motifs Symbols Key Facts. Bartleby survives on handfuls of gingernuts which are then consumed alone.

The phrase is, we might say, regurgitated, burped, repeated, in the text, and this calls to mind the impossibility of digestion and satiation for Bartleby. He refuses, in effect, to be fed, except insofar as he feeds on himself. By the end of the story, the constant refusals wear everyone down. Locked away in prison, Bartleby refuses to eat:.

So saying, he slowly moved to the other side of the enclosure and took up a position fronting the dead-wall.

Even in death -the ultimate defence- Bartleby is mild and courteous. He politely refuses to eat, and simply so to live. Curled up, foetus-fashion, he becomes identified with the object against which his head rests -the prison wall.

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We are prepared for this early on by references to his pallid complexion, his withdrawal from social life and refusal to take anything- food, money and even the offer of human empathy. Indeed, his exit is quiet and contained. For the time he survives he does so on nothing. He makes no demands, and is constantly in the position of reaction. Bartleby does not revolt in terms of a physical attack, but through a repeated set of verbal refusals, he achieves the effect of revolt. In anorexic style, he is able to live while taking no nourishment, either physical or spiritual. His is a quiet battle, concerned less with attack than defence.

The small man in his small way interferes with processes which are repetitive and uncreative. In , Q. This characteristically dogmatic view is not only outmoded, but is demonstrably inaccurate.

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Some readings overemphasise aspects or elements of the story at the expense of others. In , when the psycho-critics were refining their notions of doppelgangers and split selves, Marvin Felheim, in an article in College English , tried to categorise the various treatments of the story.

His categories were not helpful, but his project highlighted two readings of the story that were particularly popular. Bartleby becomes the archetypal clerk, a figure bowed to his task and of whom it is demanded absolute compliance and reliability. He fights by refusing to fight and so he has become an icon for various Peace Movements in the twentieth century. It is a story about the failure of modern social life. It is also the story of political unrootedness, of the consequences of living in a society operating at an alienatingly high level of production and consumption.

Thoreau went to jail for not paying his poll-tax because it contributed to slavery , but unlike Bartleby whose sense of self is dramatically reduced by confinement, Thoreau felt that to be physically immured was not to lose his sense of personal civic liberty:. I saw that, if there was a wall of stone between me and my townsmen, there was a still more difficult one to climb or break through, before they could get to be as free as I was. I did not for a moment feel confined, and the walls seemed a great waste of stone and mortar.

He insists that a part of him cannot be imprisoned and this resistance has no cost because it is not part of the civil or political domain. In fact, his psychological freedom could even be thought of having been enhanced by his corporeal imprisonment. This is not the case for Bartleby, however, whose sacrifice is so much the greater because these binary divisions are abandoned.

After Bartleby is en-Tombed, 7 his withdrawal is severe, and this leads to his self-destruction. At the end of the story Bartleby walls himself out of his own life, and he thereby destroys himself while conserving others. The denial of others, for Bartleby, necessarily involves self-denial and withdrawal, and the punishment of himself. This reading offers an image of neurotic vulnerability. Such is the incurable isolation of individuals whose personal histories are lost in and to the System.

Desks and chairs may be repositioned and partition doors may fold down, but there is little change or hope for the individual like Bartleby whose internally-constructed walls are more impermeable than any person can understand. It becomes another wall between him and external reality. Might there be a way of transcending the distinction between a political and a psychological reading? Might there be an alternative, paradoxical, reading of the text, which puts the psychology at the heart of the politics rather than treating them as discrete?

The language of anorexia is helpful here, because, as an illness with which we are becoming increasingly familiar, that condition operates extremely successfully as a form of resistance. The nature of the resistance, however, is paradoxical and tragic. He can't move but he could speak. He seems weak but he stood up for himself once, because he simply preferred not to do something. I salute you, silent man. And I wish everyone to never have to experience the slow vanishing that dead letters can cause.

I can see that figure now—pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, incurably forlorn! A human mirror. View all 7 comments. Cosa rara la literatura Era Bartleby. Bartleby y Projarchin son claros ejemplos. Jun 24, Lisa rated it it was amazing. Bartleby leaves me bewildered in many ways. Over the course of my professional life, I have known many Bartlebys, - people who put their own needs, wishes and preferences first and reject the very idea of working together to achieve a common goal.

If a person offers a rationale for his or her preference, it can be challenged. But the simple statement disarms most people, who are used to finding compromises. The short story describes the dilemma of individual and collective responsibility in a narrative that is both sad and humorous, and intensely engaging. View all 10 comments.


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Aug 09, Lyn rated it really liked it. Tulsa Doom: Bartleby the Scrivener, contemplate this on the tree of woe. Bartleby the Scrivener: I would prefer not to. Monica Bellucci: Bartleby, come to me! Bartleby the Scrivener: Um Melville as a pre-existentialist, good read, and funny, also a precursor to absurdist theater, it reads like a long joke, I was left waiting for the punch line.

View all 9 comments. Nov 02, Beverly rated it it was amazing Shelves: favorites. My favorite short story of all time! View all 5 comments. This classic Herman Melville novella is absurd and bleak, darkly humorous and heartwrenching at the same time. I appreciated it much more this time around. Bartleby is a scrivener - essentially, a human copy machine, back in the pre-Xerox days - working for a Manhattan-based lawyer who is the narrator of the tale. His co-workers: two other irritable scriveners of dubious temperament, and a office This classic Herman Melville novella is absurd and bleak, darkly humorous and heartwrenching at the same time.

His co-workers: two other irritable scriveners of dubious temperament, and a office boy, identified only by their odd nicknames. Initially an industrious employee, Bartleby declines to participate in certain normal office tasks, giving no reason other than his oft-repeated mantra: "I would prefer not to. But as Bartleby's reluctance to do his work expands to more and more tasks until it becomes all-consuming, his employer, though sympathetic to Bartleby's forlorn, lonely life, has to decide what to do with him. Bartleby is an elusive work.

It's partly a cry out against materialism and the dehumanizing effect of the pursuit of money the subtitle is "A Story of Wall Street" and partly an examination of isolation and depression, but there's much more to it, and it defies easy explanation. Some observations toward the ending are heart-wrenching: Dead letters! On errands of life, these letters speed to death. Those lines killed me! And just because it's interesting, I'll share the one observation my college English professor made that has stuck with me through the years.

There's a reference in the end to Bartleby sleeping "with kings and counselors" that the professor pointed out is a reference to these lines from the Bible: "13 For now should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept; then would I have been at rest 14 with kings and counselors of the earth, who built desolate places for themselves, 15 or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver" Job KJV - A reference not just to death, but to a certain equality men have in death, despite their differences in worldly fortunes.

Food for thought, like so much of this story! Jul 31, Guille rated it it was amazing. Jan 10, Lynne King rated it it was amazing Shelves: stars , books-to-be-read. What an amazing story about a scrivener! I haven't read such an excellent novella as this in a long time. Set in the 's and narrated by a lawyer in New York, this tale breathes and glows like a star and yet death is lurking in the background throughout. The lawyer has known many scriveners but not one such as this particular individual who continues to fascinate him so much.

Nuances about the bible with Adam and Eve, etc.

Bartleby, the Scrivener

View all 18 comments. Giunti alla fine cerchiamo di tirare le fila della vicenda, ma non ne veniamo a capo in modo soddisfacente, convincente; i fatti non quadrano, qualcosa non torna. View all 16 comments. Mar 06, Algernon Darth Anyan rated it it was amazing Shelves: I can see that figure now -- pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, incurably forlorn! It was Bartleby. One more on my reading list that comes from a Goodreads tip. Thanks again, folks! I've read it in an hour or so, but I believe it will stay with me for a lot longer.

I had to check twice the year this novella was first published : !!! I couldn't wrap my mind around how modern and fresh and relevant the story of Bartleby, the human xerox machine, still is. Decades before Franz Kafka or Eugene I can see that figure now -- pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, incurably forlorn! Decades before Franz Kafka or Eugene Ionesco or Haruki Murakami toyed with the theatre of the absurd and with the meaningless of existence, Herman Melville was exploring these territories through the meek character of a clerk on Wall Street. Another striking aspect of the story for me is the humour, something than passed unnoticed in the ponderous weight of Moby Dick my only previous experience with Melville's prose.

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Here the funny observation and the wordplay have a strong presence right from the opening paragraphs, but always with an undercurrent of melancholy, hinting at a deep seated despair. Ah, happiness courts the light, so we deem the world is gay, but misery hides aloof, so we deem that misery there is none. The story is not told by Bartleby, but by his employer, a middle aged, laidback, financially succesful and quietly witty attorney for the bigwigs of industry, who needs clerks to make copies of his legal papers. With a great sense of comedic timing, enter Turkey and Nippers, followed by errand boy Ginger Nut.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and what I missed in their first introduction, became apparent as the novella unfolds. They are the prototipes of the wage slave, tied to their desk day after day, lost in menial and unsatisfying work. One is productive in the mornings, one in the afternoons, and both try to hide their basic alienation one through drink, one through compulsive rearranging of his desk set.

The patron is a kindly soul, so instead of firing both their asses, 21 century style, he proposes to hire a third scrivener. Enters Bartleby and out goes normality. He starts as the perfect employee until an innocent request throws us into unexplored territories. Side note : I was considering the advisability of including the story in a high school literary curriculum, until I had a clear picture of a full class of unruly teenagers answering : " I would prefer not to!

After three days on the job, Bartleby responds to his employer's work direction by saying,

Maybe that's why my English teacher was mum on the subject and I had to discover Bartleby so late in my life. I see Bartleby as the spanner thrown in the well greased wheels of burgeois complacency and willful ignorance. Ignorance of precious time wasted on meaningless pursuits, ignorance of the suffering and need of our fellow humans, ignorance of the broken communication channels between same fellow humans.

The ending prefers emotion over explanations, with the motivations behind Bartleby's passive resistant anarchy He was more a man of preferences than assumptions becoming insignificant in the face of his immense sadness. Instead of ending my review with the devastating closing epitaph of our humanity, I went back to an earlier passage that shows a less pessimistic approach on the part of the narrator: Aside from higher considerations, charity often operates as a vastly wise and prudent principle -- a great safeguard to its possessor.

Men have committed murder for jealousy's sake, and anger's sake, and hatred's sake, and selfishness' sake, and spiritual pride's sake; but no man that ever I heard of ever committed a diabolical murder for sweet charity's sake. Mere self-interest, then, if no better motive can be enlisted, should, especially with high-tempered men, prompt all beings to charity and philanthropy. Aug 29, Janice rated it it was amazing Shelves: res-ipsa-loquacious-esq.

But Auster and Coetzee sat directly in front of me before the seminar started!! Hopefully, the fact that I was in such close proximity to literary genius has rubbed off on me enough to be able to competently review this story. He is arrogant: I am a man who, from his youth upwards, has been filled with a profound conviction that the easiest way of life is the best.

He shamelessly name-drops: I do not speak it in vanity, but simply record the fact, that I was not unemployed in my profession by the late John Jacob Astor; a name which, I admit I love to repeat I found this story to be bleakly hilarious. First, there are the Dickensian nicknames for the other clerks in the law office Turkey, Ginger Nut, Nippers. Then we have this crazy passive-aggressive Bartleby character, that starts out as an industrious model employee, but then inexplicably refuses to perform routine tasks.

Then we learn he is actually living in this law office. It forces the requester to wheedle and massage the declarant into reconsidering their aversion to what has been requested. This is a great lesson in Advanced Manipulation Tactics. But the bleakness! The dead white walls and dead letters! What are we to make of this? Coetzee thought that the whole spiel about the dead letters was a structural defect in the story, and added on as an after-thought, as it felt so out of place. Coetzee talked about the terror of looking into the face of the white whale in Moby-Dick and seeing what nature is truly like and opined that Melville was after the same thing here, in Bartleby.


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That the acknowledgment of the emptiness, the blankness, is one that is truly horrific. You know you have nothing better to do at work. Stop reading my fatuous drivel and read it yourself, and write a review that will blow my gibberish out of the water. View all 19 comments. Mar 28, Sidharth Vardhan rated it it was amazing Shelves: sad-lonely-thinking-of-suicide , usa , bestest.

Bartleby the Scrivener

The waiters and cooks there work 6 a. Their whole life involves for months involves waking up at 6, cleaning the place, cooking, serving all day. Their social life for months is limited to the fellow workers. Many of them start working when they aren't even in teens. Literally no jo "He was more a man of preferences than assumptions. Literally no job security.



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