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Portrait Analysis Of The Lawyer’s Character In Bartleby, The Scrivener

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“Bartleby the Scrivener”, a narrative essay, written by Herman Melville is a complex story that can be seen from many different viewpoints. The narrator of the story, known as the lawyer, is the protagonist, who possesses an incessant urge to understand the world around him. He can be seen as a voice for the people of his society, while he also separates himself from it by having extreme obsessive-compulsive actions throughout this plot. The lawyer makes sure to give his two cents on every aspect of the story, leading readers to know plenty about his beliefs and job-driven lifestyle. While all of the lawyer’s thoughts and opinions are made clear by Melville the reader is left to make one’s inferences about his character beneath the surface. The lawyer’s character has a method to his madness. Meaning he is versed in figuring out other’s demeanors and what the world he lives in expects of him. He can also be described as a wise and sensible man, who shows patience to others like characters: Turkey, Ginger Nut, and Nippers. The narrator is extremely practiced, as the reader can tell he is also intelligent. However, as a person, he is so concerned with his-own self-being that his relationship with Bartleby, the antagonist, is sickened, in turn creating the plot.

The lawyer’s life is solely based on questioning and making sense of the world that surrounds him. Although the reader can infer that he may be unaware of this fact. He admits his character is one who overthinks and tries to comprehend at an obsessive level, 'All who know me consider me an eminently safe man' (Melville, 130). While the lawyer struggles to understand Bartleby’s odd behavior, he overlooks the fact that they are more alike than they are different. Both build safe havens in their life to shield them from exposure to the expectations of the outside world. The narrator’s safe haven is in a wall street type of job. Where he knows exactly how he should act to be the best lawyer. Yet he has never eluded to having any family, friends, or even any type of normal human interaction. McCall agrees with this idea that the lawyer is inadvertently secluding himself from society. He even states that the lawyer is, “deficient in humanity and quite obtuse towards human beings” (McCall, 155). Similarly, Bartleby shields himself from a social lifestyle by having little to no human interaction with a mildly skilled job. The only time that the narrator even acknowledges that he and Bartleby are similar he merely states, 'For both I and Bartleby were sons of Adam' (Melville, 140). The lawyer can come to see that the characters are both of the human race but this, in turn, shows the reader how he places himself above the people of society. There he had placed himself and Bartleby in the same spectrum but continues adding, “Since he will not quit me, I must quit him. Ah Bartleby, Ah Humanity.” (Melville, 153). Only proving the point that he does believe he has figured out all aspects of the perfect life when Bartleby lacks being this model of society’s ideals. This shows a waterfall effect of what is thought to be how society and the working world should look, as Bartleby can be thought of as mentally slow, and maybe the reason as to why he seems to have given up on life and secludes himself from society. While Bartleby is relatively secluded from society, working for the lawyer is an attempt to regain human interaction and work towards a normal daily life. In a different light writer, McCall Sees this outburst by the lawyer as he proclaims it “a someways hollow and unfeeling exclamation” (McCall, 155). As if there is no feeling of self-righteousness behind it. While this is untrue, it is the lawyer’s differentiation between his status and Bartleby’s.

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In a general sense, the lawyer is seemingly normal. He is not a very likable or unlikable character; he keeps a clear head and is rarely hostile. He tends to try and float through life easy going without confrontation. He describes himself as a rather successful lawyer and is proud to acknowledge how dependable he is. He even describes his success in obtaining the position as a “Master of the Chancery Court” (Melville, 130-131). Yet, while he is well-to-do and is probably acquainted with higher political figures, he does not show a great deal of work ethic to the reader. He seems to be easily psyched out especially under pressure. It can be inferred that the narrator lonely other than the company of his work. A daily routine is what he is most comfortable with. In terms of character, he is quite bland, with a very little spark to his lifestyle. Bartleby becomes his challenge to an everyday schedule that comes with constant uneasiness. While he has few distinguishing qualities, it is apparent his biggest problem is lack of confrontation, which is seen with all the characters who are employed by him not only Bartleby. He employs two certifiably awful clerks, Turkey and Nippers, probably because he lacks the time, effort, and guts to fire them and find better help. The narrator constantly persuades himself it rather irrational to confront people. He is unaware that this is a weakness by making himself believe this is the appropriate way to act, which is not a very good aspect of a businessman or leader. In turn, this is the predominant reason why conflict arises among himself and Bartleby. He goes as far as to move his office to an entirely different building to avoid Bartleby.

While the Narrator battles through his issues with confrontation, he is not a bad guy. Although he does show a certain measure of sympathy for Bartleby; the lawyer remains stricken by his-own self-worth. He is puzzled by Bartleby and takes on the responsibility of figuring out his character. After it is all said and done, the lawyer shows sympathy towards Bartleby even though he is no longer his employee. This is the first time the reader sees actual human emotion from the narrator, making him easier to read and figure out. Even with flaws, it is easier to relate to the lawyer.

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Portrait Analysis Of The Lawyer’s Character In Bartleby, The Scrivener. (2021, August 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 6, 2023, from
“Portrait Analysis Of The Lawyer’s Character In Bartleby, The Scrivener.” Edubirdie, 16 Aug. 2021,
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