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Bartleby, The Scrivener As An Iconic Mystery In The English Literature Industry

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Short story, “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street” is an iconic mystery in the English Literature industry. If one has read and is familiar with mystery than they would know that the solution is very far and few between a happy ending like one would hope for. Because of this, it only makes the mystery story a perfect mystery story. While reading Bartleby one may ask themselves, “why am I reading this very dry un-exciting story?” yet, they find themselves unable to quit reading because they must know how it ends. Herman Melville, the author of this short story is able to tell his tale in a way most authors can’t. He is able to combine comedy and tragedy into one story.

Bartleby the Scrivener can easily be evaluated in many different ways. The power struggles between the characters of the short story, the economical issues, and inequalities that arise from these issues. However, the reader could also really dig in and analyze the story by looking at the symbolism, characterization or overall theme to find what the author is trying to say about the “human condition.”

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The short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” is one big struggle of power between characters. Herman Melville uses dramatic irony and black humor to show the reader how one of the lead characters, the narrator, assumes his practice is safe because he is a “rather elderly man” (886) who is an experienced, successful, lawyer with a substantial amount of power as he rightfully should be since he is the owner of the practice. The idea that the narrator has complete power and control over his practice and employees quickly changes soon into the second paragraph of the story when the narrator gives talks about his other employees. When learning about each employee’s character it’s safe to assume that they are not going to win the employee of the year award. However, the narrator assumes his age and years of experience make him a better judge of what is good and bad with the people he employs.

The narrator decided he need to hire another scrivener for his practice, so, he hired Bartleby who seemed like the perfect fit. He “did an extraordinary quantity of writing” (891) “there was no pause for digestion. He ran day and night copying by sunlight and by candle-light.” (891). Until one day when given instructions from the narrator her simply said in an “in a singularly mild, firm voice, “I would prefer not to.” (891). At this point, the narrator is feeling like he is losing his control because this has never happened to him before. At least with Turkey and Nippers one was productive in the morning and the other in the afternoon but now he has a worker who won’t work at all and he is left in shock along with the readers. The narrator admits that his reaction is not his typical response to someone with such lack of respect for their elders, “had there been anything ordinarily human about him, doubtless, I should have violently dismissed him from the premises.” (892) said the narrator. Instead of acting out of rage, he tries to take control of his power and “I begin to reason with him” (892) as he did with Turkey and the coat but this time it was different, he got nowhere with Bartleby. This is the beginning and only one of the many power struggles between Bartleby and the narrator, yet ultimately, the narrator will lose.

After looking at the power struggles between the characters, mainly Bartleby and the narrator, I feel that there are some deep meaning in what the author, Herman Melville is trying to tell the audience about the human condition. He views the human condition as the modern human is isolated from their daily lives. The behavior of Bartleby and the other characters is their inability to feel any emotion towards anything. Bartleby is withdrawn from “life” and it started by his refusal or non-determination to preform his regular task at work. This behavior expands by him not even willing to move from the office. This is much like how people now with depression behave. At first, they stop performing regular tasks and call in “sick” at work or they stop hanging out with friends and family because they rather be alone. When he is not willing to leave the narrator just gives up and moves his practice to run away from his problem and pawn it off for somebody else to deal with it. This is far too common for people to do now because it is much easier to tuck their tail and run for the hills rather than stick it out and solve their problem. Eventually, Bartleby get’s thrown in prison and stops eating resulting in him dying due to starvation.

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Bartleby, The Scrivener As An Iconic Mystery In The English Literature Industry. (2022, March 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
“Bartleby, The Scrivener As An Iconic Mystery In The English Literature Industry.” Edubirdie, 17 Mar. 2022,
Bartleby, The Scrivener As An Iconic Mystery In The English Literature Industry. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 5 Mar. 2024].
Bartleby, The Scrivener As An Iconic Mystery In The English Literature Industry [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Mar 17 [cited 2024 Mar 5]. Available from:
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