Bartleby, The Scrivener: Language Analysis

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While reading ‘Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street’ by Herman Melville, the reader is met with phrases such as “right hand man” and “would prefer”. The phrase “right hand man” in the novella is described as someone’s right hand (not to literally); is the person who acts as their chief assistant, helps, and supports them a lot in their work. While on the other hand, the phrase “would prefer” is used for telling someone politely not do to something, and or that a person is declining to do something that is assigned, or either that one’s wants, favors, or desires something. In the newspaper articles These definitions hold true even if you restrict the time period (1840s – 1860s). In the reading one can conclude that there are only ‘two’ definitions for the phrase “would prefer’ and there is only one definition for “right hand man”. Each of these phrases along with their individual definitions are used by both newspaper author(s) and Herman Melville in such away as not to contradict the meanings they held, while also getting their point across.

The context of “would prefer” in 1853, was used for politely telling someone you will not do something (1st) or in regard to a person’s wants and desires (2nd). In the news article ‘Special Notices.’ from a newspaper out of New Orleans, Louisiana where a “SERVENT WANTED… colored servant Boy, from 15 to 20 years of age. Would prefer to hire for 6 months or a year…” in this instance the employer is looking to hire a specific type of person which is a desire or want of theirs following the second definition. This phrase definition is also seen in the phrase used in the reading, but the character Bartley. The newspaper located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania titled the ‘Pure Milk Messes Editors’ talks about a man “would prefer to have the butter and…” in this case an individual is trying to make people aware of their desires. In another instance of second definition, an advertising article in the ‘Times-Picayune’ in a New Orleans, Louisiana paper mentioning “if acceptable to you sir, you will be pleased to designate the evening on which you ‘would prefer’ the Complimentary Benefit should take place”. When this article was published; January 9, 1853, taking a closer look at the text the conclusion that the phrase meant a person’s want is plainly expressed. By say or rather asking “which you would prefer” 3, when using the word which the phrase was turned from a statement format into a question format making this about what a person wants rather then what they do not want to do. The column titled “Daniel Webster’s Favorite Poem.” tomorrow” It states that “Daniel Webster the night before his death…” he stays that “ I would prefer being the author of that poem to the glory of beating the French tomorrow” . The phrase’s 2nd (a person’s want) meaning takes up majority of the “would prefer” search during 1853, The 1st definition (polity saying I rather not) was scarce to come by, this was the closest I can by with both in the same context. “There is a portion of the House opposed to any arrangement by which the United States can, possibly, be made liable; and there are those who ‘would prefer’ to borrow…” It is no surprise that the meanings of the phrases can be seen that during United States politics. The same way the phrase was intended to be used today is the same way used at a time of tension in politics, to intensify very subtly the severity of what they said. In a column titled ‘A Women’s Desert’, a question is posed to an interviewed individual name Julia: “Are you indeed so changed, My Julia, that you have forgot the time when you used to declare you would prefer a desert with your Henry to a throne with another”? Now of course this use of the phrase is easily spotted as the “want” definition because it is basically asking do Julia if she wants or would like desert with that drink (assuming that a Henry is food related). “WANTED.¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬—There able bodies CARTERS. Steady employment given and would prefer hiring by the year. Apply at this office.” Kind of like the last one, this article even takes it a step further by stating the some of the meaning within it. The title ‘WANTED’ alone tells that whatever is being searched for is what the person(s) desires. With all these examples of the phase “would prefer” and the meaning staying consistent throughout the time period of 1853, one can assume that like the authors of the columns, Melville was trying to get his specific point across. It can not be forgotten that during this time; 1843-1863, in the United States, see as slavery was still prevalent and up for much debate tensions over slavery became prominent and dramatic events hastened the nation’s movement towards civil war. “With all due respect for their liberality manifested in the Lemmon case, the South would prefer their influence in securing her rights, to their contribution in compensation for depriving her of those rights” . This article expresses the wants of the south’s wanting to keep their rights to slaves (indicated in the column). From a newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland an article titled “WANTS” like the 2nd definition of the phrase “would prefer”, it is mentioned that “the object of the advertiser to obtain a suitable wire would prefer OLB under 25 years of age” . “I would prefer it to any article now in use, for the diseases arising from an impure state of the blood or taint the system”. The is along with many others go off 2nd meaning of the phrase. The author(s) and Melville have commonalities in which they use and how they use the phrase as it relates to the two definitions.

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Melville’s choice of the phrase “would prefer” is a rather interesting because most of the time it was used with negative connotation. Splitting the 2 definitions, it maintains a fairly neutral position. The phrase by itself is not negative. “Would Prefer” is neutral, but when placed with other a word like ‘not’ gives in the stigma of not being positive. On the other hand, if you spend it the other way the to a more positive light, one can suggest their preferred outcome (not necessarily what they wish would or could happen, but what is wanted out of something). That is exactly what manipulation of a word is what He used to settle the intensity of the word ‘no’ coming from a worker hired by the Lawyer (Boss Man). It was almost as if Melville knew the kind of reaction would be perceived from the readers since Bartleby could not directly say no then he would need another way to indirectly say it. As mention in the definition, the beginning the phrase telling someone politely not to do something or a soft decline of doing something. With this notion mind the Newspaper articles and Melville knew the word and used it to pull the reader into reading on to find out what happened next. In them choosing the phrase they did help to maximize the brevity of the situation, but with a gentle nudge in the right direction.

When Melville used the phrase “right hand man” which was used to describe the significance to what Turkey saw that he was to the Lawyer. But this we know is not to be the least bit true, in the way that Melville set up the beginning of ‘Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street’. There the reader is introduced to Turkey the oldest worker of the Lawyer who a one point might have been a great scribe, but as year go on, he starts getting up in age and drinking at lunch. This causes a fast decline his efficiency at work just getting a half a day’s work done. Remembering the young Turkey, the current one still believing he is still the Lawyers right hand man. Its meaning holds firm because the person described is important when it comes to helping assist and support one in work (on a regular basis of course). “As for his ‘right hand man’ and chief support, Mr. Webster, he thought to judge impartially and justly upon his claims to the favor of the party with which he acted… “. The article plainly states the right-hand man’s name Mr. Webster, but not only that it tells the job chief support. How the phrase is used in the article is exactly what is stated in as the definition. This article uses the phrase that Melville used in; the way it was intended to be used going off the definition. In this piece titled “Their Own Witnesses” written in January of 1843 retains the same concept as mentioned, but the phrase is now made plural. “What Mr. Van Hunen’s (or Huten’s) right hand men said of Mr. Calioun”. By changing the word man to men also changes the phrase, instead of applying to one helper it is now applied to several. No matter the serios that is placed around the words the meaning remains resolute. Just like this scenario in ‘Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street’ the person is seen as a hard, dedicated worker that helps the Boss whenever called upon to do so. The only difference is time. Bartleby has only spent a couple of weeks with the Lawyer and this worker has spent years. The individual being described in the article ‘Bunker Hill Festival’ can be related back to the way that Turkey views his relationship with the Lawyer. “He hoped his right hand man, or rather his distinguished friend on his right, (the Secretary of the Treasury,) …”. In so aspect the individual in the article and Turkey have or had the same starter drive to in a way assist their boss to do their work the best of their abilities; the phrases definition holds true still. With both words Melville is given the ability to his express each of the characters thoughts just as the authors were able to in each of the News paper articles.

The “Right hand man” phrase is one that no matter the time, place, and in many cases, even though many cultures, it means a person who is a very important ‘willing’ assistant who helps someone do a job. This definition is straight through, with this knowledge Melville was able to place this so called ‘value’ on Bartleby at 1st. In placing a value on him the Lawyer puts on blinders to the power that his worker holds over him, with both his action and his choice of words. When the newspaper mentions the phrase, it holds value as well, but majority of the time did not go into very specific details about the dynamic of worker and boss. Oddly enough the phrase does not come from either Bartleby or the Lawyer instead it comes out of the mouth of Turkey. Turkey is the eldest employee of the Lawyer in the “Bartleby the Scrivener”. He is a good worker in the morning, but in the afternoon, he gets a short temper and his face becomes flush. With this his makes many mistakes in this work in the afternoon. When encountering this phrase in the short story, Turkey truly believes that he is the right hand man of the Lawyer, but on the contrary he was nothing of the sort to him. In both selections the phrase “right hand man” plays of literally being just that a person’s right hand (not to suggest all people are right handed), like an extension of one’s self, an assistant of sorts. In all the articles mentioned, every single one refences to the right hand man being the actual person who acts as their chief assistant and helps and supports them a lot in their work, who was being discussed. With there only being one meaning to the phrase, it would be difficult to challenge that Herman Melville misused the phrase to be something it was not intended to be likewise the authors and be seen in the same light.

Even though in 1853, news was straight forward which makes the used of the phrase “would prefer” not completely direct nor totally indirect either; it being able to invoke some emotion. This same emotion is what Melville invoked in his readers as they came across the subtle defiance of authority that Bartleby showed towards the Lawyer throughout the novella. The same thing can be seen when the phrase “right hand man” (time period: 1843-1863) is used not to necessarily to give rise to emotion, but to induce thought. They do this to help usher the reader to come up with their own reasoning for why something has happened and how did it manifest. Although the phrases were used to influence the reader, the meaning behind each of them remained the absolute same regardless of the circumstances. Regardless of the time crunch place on the words, both phrases whether in Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener’ or in the 1840-60s news paper articles the meanings remain the same. Though not much can be stated on what the newspaper authors intentions were in using these phrases, much could be said about how they come off when reading them, these three decades were (in the Union/ later the United States) very challenging in visualizing the future of the nation. With tensions were showing (or at least starting to show) there ugly heads, there might have not been an out right way to say what they (authors and interviewees) felt at the time good or bad.

The phrase “Would Prefer” has two designated meanings, while on the other hand “right hand man” only has one. Each phrases definition enables the reader to develop a certain view about the novella (Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street’). There were tons of articles even with the restricted time period of 1843-1863, but throughout each news clipping the meanings stayed true just as the readings does. Referring to Herman Melville’s ‘Bartleby’ when talking about ‘would prefer’ Bartleby almost exclusively uses the phrase to tell someone politely not do to something, and that one declining to do something that is assigned, but in some cases his wants and desires for something were made known. In several examples mentioned in earlier paragraphs the phrase ‘right hand man’ was solely used to describe a person who acts as or on the behalf of another by a chef, and or an assistant, while helping and supporting them with majority of their work. This phrase is used to describe what Turkey view himself as to the Lawyer; how the Lawyer does not view Turkey in this light. Melville definitely took into account how the phrases would complement the predicaments that are shown in ‘Bartleby’. These newspaper articles give many different examples then used in the reading, while still maintaining the integrity of the phrase’s meanings, while getting their points across. As well as justifying Melville’s points were also made, and he was not just making up phrases just for the sake of having them in the story. 


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