Bartleby the Scrivener

"Bartleby, the Scrivener" by Herman Melville

"Bartleby, the Scrivener" is narrated by a Wall Street lawyer who deals in investment opportunities for wealthy clients.   The story centers on a "scrivener," (law-copyist) for the law firm and the strange behavior he exhibits during and after he is employed by the lawyer.   The first thought I had about this story was "why?"   Why did the lawyer keep Turkey and Nippers when they caused him so many problems?   What is the reason for Bartleby's unusual behavior?   Why did the lawyer feel so strongly for Bartleby?   Why did the lawyer allow Bartleby to "prefer not to"?   Why didn't the lawyer have Bartleby forcibly removed by the police or committed to an insane asylum?   What is the meaning of the use of all the walls in the story?   Is the lawyer sincere about his charity towards Bartleby, or this charity self-gratifying?   A few of these questions are answered below.

Urban society in the late 19th century is one of the major themes of this story.   It was important then, as it often is now, to conform to a certain role in order to be recognized.   The lawyer is described as a "rather elderly man" who is generally level-headed, industrious and has a good mind for business.   The lawyer is "a man who, from his youth upwards, has been filled with a profound conviction that the easiest way of life is the best" (Melville, 878).   The lawyer not only wants a contention free life for himself, but is willing to permit others the same privilege of a similarly contention free life.   The lawyer adjusts himself to his clerks peculiarities and rarely comments or tries to regulate them.   Critic Thomas R. Mitchell stated that "the restlessness and turbulence of Nippers and Turkey cannot disturb the narrator's peace; ironically, it takes Bartleby's quintessential passivity to do that.   Bartleby's passive refusal to be reasonable to be accommodating, to be anything really but a cadaverous spectre of a man, disconcerts the narrator and forces...