Bartleby The Scrivener: Conflict In A Novel

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“Bartleby the Scrivener” is an interesting story, with a lot of symbolism in which can Bartleby be interpreted in many different ways. Since the story is told from first person point of view, it gives the readers a chance to see everything with the narrator’s eyes, it also allows the reader to know his feeling and emotions, which he has as he communicates with Bartleby, and lastly the reader can also see the way Bartley changed him throughout the story. In the story, it is evident that the perspective and attitude of the speaker toward Bartleby change as Bartleby changes. The speaker is a speaker who runs a law practice on Wall Street in New York; he has three workers but it’s in desperate need of another worker, so he hires Bartleby. At the beginning of the story, the speaker, and his three workers, Turkey, Nippers, and Ginger Nut do not pay much attention to Bartleby until one day, he stops working they begin to get angry and frustrated. Turkey seems to have the same perspective towards Bartleby throughout the story, he is a drunk scrivener who has an unmanageable temper, and through the story, he continues to dislike Bartleby and wants to get violent. Moreover, Nippers, like his colleague Turkey, is a pretentious, dissatisfied, irritable, and idle person; both Turkey and Nippers maintain the same attitude toward Bartleby throughout the story. While, the speaker’s attitude towards Bartleby changes throughout the short narrative from kind, to enraged, to firm, to caring.

In the begging, the speaker paid more attention to the large amount of high quality work Bartleby is producing and knows that he is doing wonderful at his job, then when the speaker decides to take a look at Bartleby himself and not his work, he notices that there is something uncommon about Bartleby and gets concerned when he continues to work well as a copyist but refuses to help or do any other tasks for the office people, and repeatedly says “I would prefer not to” (Melville, p.1166). Shortly after that, Bartley gives up doing work all together, but stays and lives in the office building, making the speaker furious and leaving him with two choice, kick Bartleby out or to be nice and consider something else. After much thought, the speaker decides to be nice and offers Bartleby a place in his home, but Bartleby does not take his offer and replies “No: at present I would prefer not to make any change at all” (Melville, p.1180). Then, the speaker gets strict and firmly asks him to forswear the office, but he says no, causing the speaker to have a bad reputation forcing him to move the entirely operation to a different office and as the speaker and the workers depart to the new office Bartleby stays there. Thereafter, the new people at the building call the police and they take Bartleby to prison where he does not want to do anything, eat, or talk. Lastly, the speaker goes to visit him and tries to talk to him but Bartleby does not want to talk, the speaker tries to talk some sense into him but it does not work, Bartleby ends up starving himself to death. At the end the speaker becomes very curious how this all started and he finds out what may have started all of this weird conduct from Bartleby. “The lawyer’s reappraisal of himself, the evident change that seems to be the impetus for the story, is evident through the story.” (Davis, Todd F, p.185).

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Bartleby’s behavior is a mystery eerie and humorous but in a weird way, besides his seriousness and the level of his refusal, he does not change at all throughout the whole story. He starts off like a pretty normal guy, he does his work right, but then he refuses to do anything, “Bartleby shows classic symptoms of depression, especially his lack of motivation. He is a passive person, although he is the only reliable worker in the office other than the narrator and Ginger Nut” (Hayford, Harrison). After Bartleby’s death the speaker finds out that his former employee was a clerk in a dead letter office sorting the letters for years and perhaps the dead letters influenced and changed his definition of life. When the speaker finds this information he begins to question whether Bartleby symbolized a dead latter, he thinks that after reading many letters that were supposed to go to someone who is no longer living must have influenced Bartleby’s perspective on life. Another explanation on why Bartleby represents a dead letter is because the speaker is the sender of the letter, and he wishes to communicate with Bartleby but he can never get through him and never hears from him again. “The lawyer is emotionally unable to edict Bartleby because of the lack of communication.” (Hayford, Harrison). “Bartleby is a thoroughly alien intruder into the world of Melville’s narrating lawyer, pushing the latter to a moral and epistemological crisis by evading or indeed destroying the basic heuristics by which the narrator has hitherto made sense of the world.” (Walser, Hannah, p.314)

This story is a clear example of how conflict produces character and sometimes reveals it. There was conflict between the speaker and Bartleby and between Bartleby and life. The speaker could have possibly added more stress in Bartleby’s situation, making him feel lifeless, creating the illustration of the failure to communicate and this is evident because almost everything that happened leading up to Bartleby’s death goes back to the failure of communication. This revealed the character of Bartleby to the speaker after he found out that he worked in a dead letter office for years, reading and sorting letters, hundreds of failures to communicate changed Bartleby’s perspective on life.


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