1. What is the Boss up against in relation to Bartleby? What does Bartleby represent? Who are the major players in the story? What do we know about them? Are they likable? Sympathetic? Realistic?
In the story, Bartleby is portrayed as a character that goes against the norms. The phrase, “I would prefer not to” shows his attitude towards not following the path followed by the majority. Consequently, the Boss is against this retaliation which Bartleby possesses. The story also shows that Bartleby is representative of a force apart from his individualism. This is largely a result of Bartleby’s way of response towards other people and his resistant personality. Bartleby may also be considered an introvert, since he does not discuss his life story with the Boss.
The major players of the story are; the Boss and Bartleby. The Boss in the story is the Boss of the law firm and he has hired Bartleby as an employee at the firm. Boss is shown as an old man around the age of sixty years. He is portrayed as a likable character. This conclusion of the Boss being a likable character is proved by his sympathetic behavior towards Bartleby, regardless of Bartleby’s attitude. Bartleby is introduced as a hardworking character but as the story progresses his stubbornness is uncovered. Bartleby may be considered as a realistic character because such employees do exist at the workplace. These employees are dissatisfied with their work pattern which leads to their stubborn behavior as portrayed by Bartleby.
2. What is the function of the story’s minor characters?
The minor characters of the story include; Turkey, Ginger Nut, and Nippers. Turkey belongs to the same age group as the Boss and is shown as a proficient and submissive employee but only for the first half of the day. As the day progresses Turkey’s efficiency reduces and he becomes disagreeable. Ginger Nut who is a twelve year old boy at the firm, he does all the jobs which his superiors order him to do. He used to send ginger nut cookies to Turkey and Nippers which suggests his name. Nippers have an opposite nature to Turkey as he is more productive during the second half of the day. Due to his indigestion problems he demonstrates an irritable and impatient behavior during the morning.
The minor characters of the story portray the typical American employees of a firm. There is always a diverse workforce with any company and the varying characteristics of the minor characters in the story summarize the diversity. Submissive and impatient employees are common in most organizational structures. The submissive employees are always willing to agree with their bosses and avoid making their bosses angry; whereas, impatient employees always answer in an irritable manner. The assistants who have a similar position as Ginger Nut are mostly expected to do odd jobs in the office.
3. How does the Boss react when Bartleby repeatedly refuses to perform his duties? What is the Boss’s dilemma? Why does the Boss have sympathy for Bartleby? What do you recommend the Boss do?
The Boss adopts a very calm attitude with Bartleby in the beginning. However, as Bartleby refuses to perform the tasks over and over again, the Boss assigns the tasks as an order rather than a demand. The Boss even makes his tone harsher in order to show his authority over Bartleby. This behavior of Bartleby has consumed the Boss with a dilemma. This dilemma states whether the Boss should retain Bartleby as an employee or fire him. If he is to retain Bartleby, then he needs to devise a strategy to make him work.
The Boss does not out-rightly fire Bartleby because he has sympathy towards the employee. This sympathy is shown when the Boss offers him a house and money. He even considers Bartleby a desperate soul because of which he offers him a job at his firm. The Boss must make it clear to Bartleby that he would only give him help if he proved himself worth it. He should warn Bartleby that if he continues this sort of resistant behavior he would have to be fired.
4. Exactly why does Bartleby always “prefer not to”? Describe Bartleby’s behavior? Why can’t he make friends or communicate? What is at the heart of his rebellion?
Bartleby always “prefers not to” because he was forced into the job at the law firm since he had the skills of a scrivener. Bartleby’s employment history at the Dead Letter’s Office has secluded him from other members of society. He was expected to perform the same task repetitively which made him go insane. Since, his job was like a robot he was treated as one as well. A robot does not display any feelings or emotions and Bartleby portrays a similar behavior. This is a reason for Bartleby’s inability to make friends or communicate with others around him. The heart of Bartleby’s rebellion is to teach the lawyer a lesson. Bartleby wants to ensure that the lawyer must not be lazy.
5. Are there any ironies in the story that you could point to? Are there any paradoxes? What ideas does this story suggest to you about management? Workplace?
The irony of the story is that the behavior of the Boss is just as frustrating as Bartleby’s behavior. As the Boss still has hopes with Bartleby it is not leading to Bartleby improve his attitude or behavior any further. Along with this, if the lawyer had conducted a background check on Bartleby he would not have hired such an employee. This just shows that the Boss did a shallow check of judging Bartleby on his appearance.
Bartleby attracts sympathy because he shows signs of being mentally ill, and this could be the reason for him getting fired. Bartleby’s employment serves as a lesson to the Boss which teaches him a lesson to conduct a proper check before hiring employees next time.
The story suggests that if a proper background check is not conducted on employees then it could have disastrous effects at the workplace. Management needs to match the job with person being hired in order to ensure efficiency and effectiveness. Showing sympathy during the hiring process is not going to have any positive impact in the long-run.