The setting of the novel is in a small law office on the Wall Street. The focus of the narrative is more on the personality of one employee, Bartleby. The author tells the story through a narrator. The authors use of a narrator in the novel ensures that the reader gets as close as possible to Bartleby. This approach enables the reader to perceive everything through the senses of main character’s employer thereby identifying with the feelings of the narrator. This approach evokes the emotions of the reader in a way that the reader feels duty-bound to try to solve the mystery of Bartleby’s character.
The narrative introduces the narrator and his employees at the legal office. The novel depicts the narrator as simplistic. The narrator confirms this by pronouncing that the best way for anyone to achieve a satisfactory life is simplicity. He even states that those who know him consider him eminently safe (Melville 2). This is evidence that though the narrator involved in what most people consider a great profession he does not like taking risks. As such, his ambition is to achieve financial stability and to live an easy life. The narrator’s simplicity is confirmed by the fact that he owns a small office on the Wall Street despite the fact that those who occupy the Wall Street are considered to be extravagant. The simplicity is further evidenced by the depiction of the office as having ‘an aging black brick wall’ and the atmosphere appearing plain and boring (4). The foregoing depicts the narrator as conservative. Intrinsically, the novel adopts a conservative perspective through the narrator’s character while inadvertently providing insight regarding of the consequences of eccentricity in the modern societies.
The plot of the novel is deceivingly simple. It is about a well-established lawyer working on Wall Street who is assisted by a copyist and an office boy. The copyist is nicknamed Turkey. Turkey emerges as a short, sixty-year-old aging Englishman who is most productive in the early hours of the morning and unproductive after the afternoon due to his drinking habit. The copyist is also accorded a nickname, Nippers. The narrative portrays Nippers as a person who is “the victim of two evil powers ambition and ingestion” (8). This is because Nippers is short-tempered, especially during the morning hours but his temper eases as the day progresses. as such, the productivity of the Nippers and Turkey alternate. Turkey is most productive in the morning while Nippers is most productive during the afternoon.
Another character in the novel is Ginger Nut. Readers learn that Ginger Nut was sent to the narrator’s office by his father to be an errand boy and a cleaner while also taking the advantage of his presence in the office to learn a thing or two about law. Apparently, the boy acquires his Ginger Nut nickname from the ginger nuts he gives the other workers. The fact that the boy was sent to the office to learn law from an up and running law firm shows that during the mid-1900s the trade was learnt through apprenticeship.
As the business of the narrator gains momentum, he hires Bartleby. From the narrative, Bartleby is depicted as different from the narrator and other workers. He is more productive than Turkey and Nippers. At first, Bartleby is depicted as innocent and hardworking. This is apparent from the fact that he does a lot of writing to the extent of working relentlessly during the day and night. Bartleby soon changes and becomes the mantra as he becomes what the author refers to as ‘passive resistance’. This observation by the narrator is based on Bartleby’s polite refusal to carry out certain responsibilities that the narrator, his boss, assigns him.
Bartleby is the protagonist of the narrative. Initially, Bartleby conjures sympathy in the reader. He is a person with no home and his situation often forces him into inaction. However, a closer reading of the narrative and understanding of Bartleby’s character reveals that he is a person who has a controlling personality. This aspect is signified by Bartleby’s refusal to adhere to the orders from his boss. He wields a personified opposition successfully and with a profound purpose. Bartleby’s stubborn refusal to do what the boss asks of him is depicted as a heroic act of opposition and control. It is noteworthy that the narrator does not contemplate a situation where Bartley, his employee and a working member of the society, would refuse legitimate orders. The refusal by Bartleby to eat or do anything surprises the narrator.
It is notable that the Bartleby is the only character in the novel that possesses a proper name. This is a deliberate ploy by the narrator to highlight the importance of Bartley's character. The narrator focus on Bartleby is evidence when he states that Bartleby is the strangest scrivener he has ever seen or heard of (1). Lawyers possess high profile positions within the society hence it is clear that the narrator has heard of many scriveners but he finds Bartley to be the most interesting. This shows the extent to which Bartley has made an impact in the life of the narrator. Throughout the novel, the narrator seems to comprehend the power that Bartley holds. He tries to change the Bartley’s attitude but fails and gives up. Bartleby even refuses to leave the office thereby creating a theme of defiance. The manner in which the narrator treats Bartleby brings about a myriad of feelings to the reader. These feelings encompass sympathy, frustration, and pity depending on the interpretations of various scenes.
The narrative provides a theme of death through Bartleby. Gloom seems to define Bartleby from the time he is introduced in the story. The narrator’s first glimpse of Bartleby prompts a description that is ghastly, not only because of Bartleby’s pale appearance but also his eerily quiet character. Accordingly, the narrator experiences a vision of Bartleby’s corpse in his meandering sheet, this arouses fear. Of significance is the narrator’s description of the way Bartleby stares idly at the wall for hours. The narrator describes the situation as Bartleby’s “dead wall reveries” (46). Bartleby’s eventual death confirms this theme.
Throughout the narrative, the author uses a confounded and nostalgic tone. The reader experiences confusion and intense sadness throughout the narrative, especially with regard to Bartleby’s persona. The sad tone enables the reader to acknowledge the narrator’s sincere emotional involvement regarding the things that transpire throughout the plot of the narrative. It is when the reader identifies with the narrator intonation that one can perceive the tragic and frightening aspect of Bartleby’s character.
The narrative is like a parable about the dangers of the modern society. It provides a lesson regarding the importance of socialization and the risks associated with alienation and individualism. Modern societies advocate for a self-made man. However, the novel, through Bartleby’s character, seems to demonstrate that perhaps individualism and independence is not the best way to go. Bartleby is ultimately undone by his blatant refusal to interact and to give in to the societal expectations. By refusing to share his experiences with his fellow workmates, Bartleby ends up passing away in what seems to be a pitiful, desolate death. In the end, it is hard for a reader to understand Bartleby’s character because his quietness makes him hard to decode to the extent that even in the office, no one in the office can understand his attitude. An attempt to describe the character of Bartleby would be unsuccessful as there is virtually no information regarding him. His individualism provides his character as a mystery. The mystery ends up unresolved, much to the frustration of the reader.
Melville, Herman. Bartleby the Scrivener (Large Print). ReadHowYouWant.com. Objective
Systems Pty Ltd ACN, 2006.