Bartleby the Scrivener could be described as a narrative about acquiring rid of its rubric character. about the narrator’s effort to acquire rid of Bartleby. and Bartleby’s retentive capacity to be ever at that place. It is the narrative of an nameless attorney and his employee. Bartleby. a scribe of jurisprudence paperss.
Confronted non merely with Bartleby’s refusal to make work ( first to “read” transcripts against the original. so to copy wholly ) . but besides with the contagious nature of the peculiar words of his refusal ( Bartleby’s peculiar “I would prefer non to” ) .
the storyteller concludes that. before Bartleby “turns the tongues” any further of those with whom he comes into contact. he “must acquire rid of” Bartleby. At the same clip Bartleby feels “mobbed in his privacy” ( 27 ) when the other office workers crowd him behind his screen. they in bend are invaded by his idiosyncrasy – his private parlance “prefer.
” Bartleby’s presence interruptions down the clear differentiations between public and private.
professional and domestic. between “privacy” and “the rabble. ” By nailing Bartleby as the “cause” of infective linguistic communication ( linguistic communication “turned” bad ) . the storyteller wants to halt the class of a procedure ( the “turning of tongues” ) already in advancement. But acquiring rid of Bartleby is every bit slippery as acquiring rid of a chronic status ; the storyteller emphasizes a phrase which appears textually in italics: “he was ever there” ( 20 ) . Bartleby is. as the storyteller calls him. a “nuisance” ( 40 ) . an “intolerable incubus.
” As a character in the narrative with a organic structure.
he moves really small. but the few words he speaks interrupt out at unexpected minutes in the office. Every effort the storyteller makes to command the inactive Bartleby and his infective linguistic communication fails uproariously ( Schehr 97 ) . The storyteller experiences a funny tenseness between the impossible jussive mood ( on the degree of the narrative ) to acquire rid of the topic. and the impossibleness ( on the degree of the narrative ) to compose his complete life ( Bartleby’s “history” ) . Therefore. Bartleby is besides a fable about composing history or life.
In trying to compose what he thinks of as Bartleby’s life. the storyteller simply misnames his authorship undertaking. or he emphasizes it from the incorrect point of position. In hunt of Bartleby’s beginnings. the storyteller does non merely narrate ( as he thinks ) the history of Bartleby the Scrivener ; he relates instead the narrative of his ain anxiousness vis-a-vis Bartleby. In peculiar. he relates his anxiousness over the scrivener’s silence – and manners of interrupting that silence ; for we could state that. instead than talking really small or in peculiar ways. Bartleby has peculiar ways of on occasion interrupting silence.
It is this force in address. this unexpected eruption. which the storyteller frights. The storyteller. whose familiarities describe him as an “eminently safe adult male. ” who likes nil better than the “cool repose of a cubby retreat” ( 4 ) . is thrown unquestionably off kelter when faced with what he footings Bartleby’s “passive resistance” ( 17 ) . Bartleby’s arm is his entire indifference to truth. whereas the storyteller seeks a 2nd sentiment on truth from the other office couples. Bartleby could be seen as the one solid block around which the storyteller writes his ain narrative about truth instead than the truth about the Bartleby narrative.
Bartleby’s inactive opposition really generates the narrative — confronted with it. the storyteller creates theories ( his philosophy of premises. for case ) . carries on arguments with himself. and seeks the advocate of others — all with the opaque Bartleby as the nucleus. In retracing Bartleby’s narrative. the storyteller follows an inexplicit logic which he ne’er straight states. It is the logic of cause and consequence. ( He is non intentionally concealing this logic. but because he takes its cogency for granted. he ne’er remarks on it critically.
) Believing in the possibility of happening a particular. locatable. and nameable cause to Bartleby’s status ( as he is able to make with the other office workers. Childs and Turkey. whose tempers vary harmonizing to their diets and the clip of twenty-four hours ) . the storyteller thinks that by eliminating the cause of the job. he can change the effects. the effects of Bartleby’s talking status in the office infinite. McCall follows the same logic as the storyteller in seeking causes of Bartleby’s behaviour.
He mentions comment that when the storyteller asks Bartleby to run an errand for him at the station office. “that is likely the last topographic point. if the rumour is right. that Bartleby would of all time desire to travel. ” ( McCall 129 ) . The storyteller ne’er considers that his line of concluding might be defective — that Bartleby’s status may non be linked to a particular. locatable. nameable cause. We as readers may be placed in the same place as the storyteller in that we ne’er know either the beginning of Bartleby’s status ; we witness chiefly its effects. or symptoms. in the narrative.
These symptoms reside non merely in Bartleby as single character. but in the very manner the storyteller tells the narrative about that character. Rather than talking about the cause of Bartleby’s status. one could more competently talk about the ways in which its effects are spread to other characters within the text. When the storyteller impatiently biddings Bartleby to fall in and assist the others in the scenario of group reading. Bartleby responds. “I would prefer non to” ( 14 ) . Hearing this response the storyteller turns “into a pillar of salt” ( 14 ) .
( Faced with Bartleby’s responses and sheer presence. the storyteller oftentimes evokes images of his losing. so waking to. consciousness. ) When he recovers his senses. he tries to ground with Bartleby. who in the interim has retreated behind his screen. The storyteller says: “These are your ain transcripts we are about to analyze. It is labour salvaging to you. because one scrutiny will reply for your four documents. It is common use. Every scribe is bound to assist analyze his transcript. Is it non so? Will you non talk? Answer! ” ( 15 )
The storyteller is exasperated when Bartleby does non react instantly to the logic behind his work ethic. “These are your ain transcripts we are about to analyze. It is labour salvaging to you. ” Examining or reading transcript is a money salvaging activity. from which every member of the office net incomes ( four paperss for the monetary value of one reading! ) . “Every scribe is bound to assist analyze his transcript. ” To the contract the attorney decidedly demands from his employee. a bond based on an exchange of reading. Bartleby replies three times. gently. “in a flutelike tone. ” “I ( would ) prefer non to” ( 15 ) .
By declining to read transcript. Bartleby refuses to accept to the economic system of the office. It is possibly merely to another type of reading. one non based on a system of exchange and net income. which Bartleby consents. Although the storyteller says he has ne’er seen Bartleby reading — “not even a newspaper” ( 24 ) — he does frequently notice him gazing outside the window of the office onto a brick wall. Gazing at the dead brick wall ( in what the storyteller calls Bartleby’s “dead-wall reveries” ) may be Bartleby’s lone signifier of reading. taking the topographic point of the economy-based reading demanded of him in the procedure of verifying transcripts.
About midway through the narrative. the lawyer/narrator visits his office on a Sunday forenoon and. detecting a cover. soap and towel. a few crumbs of ginger nuts and a morsel of cheese. deduces that the copyist ne’er leaves the office. Recognizing the full impact of Bartleby’s status. he states. What I saw that forenoon persuaded me that the copyist was the victim of innate and incurable upset. ( 25 ) The storyteller clearly locates the upset in Bartleby. Sing himself in the function of diagnostician and therapist. he himself is faced with the “hopelessness of rectifying inordinate and organic ill” ( 24 ) .
The narrator’s concern about an single medical remedy should more competently be a concern about an obsessively private rhetorical argument or a perilously idiomatic group contagious disease ( Perry 409 ) . Despite his premise that Bartleby is incurable. or possibly exactly because he can consequence no remedy. the storyteller beleaguers himself throughout the narrative with inquiries or bids to make something about Bartleby ( McCall 9 ) . If the private man’s upset can be passed on to another ( one ) individual. what happens when the status is let loose out of close quarantine into the public infinite of the office?
Bartleby walks a unstable tightrope between comedy and calamity ( Inge 25 ) . The tragic dimension frequently resides in the narrator’s turning inward on himself ( a kind of tragic compaction ) . so seting himself on test. an interior minute of accusal which finally consequences in the prostration of the narrative in a individual suspiration or exclaiming ( “Ah. Bartleby! Ah. humanity! ” 46 ) . The amusing effects are frequently related to the autocratic effort ( and failure ) to incorporate the spread of parlance as contagious disease ( Perry 412 ) .
If Bartleby has been a figure for calamity in the lone speculation of the storyteller. he becomes a figure for comedy in his contact with his office mates Nippers and Turkey. The more the storyteller tries to modulate the contact between the three. the more screaming — and significantly out of control — is Bartleby’s influence. The attempt to incorporate or command tends really to advance the epidemic proportions of the narrative. It is the storyteller himself who uses a vocabulary of contagious disease in relation to Bartleby. He says he has had “more than ordinary contact” ( 3 ) with other copyists he has known.
Bartleby exceeds this already extraordinary contact – he has been touched by “handling” dead letters ( Schehr 99 ) . Some critics reproduce the narrator’s linguistic communication of contagious disease in speaking about Bartleby. McCall. in his survey on The Silence of Bartleby. depict “our” response. the corporate readers’ response. to reading the narrative: As we go through the narrative. we watch with a certain delight how Bartleby is “catching. ” We root for the spread of the bug. ( 145 ) In a slightly less delighted vena. Borges says. “Bartleby’s frank nihilism contaminates his comrades and even the impassive adult male who tells Bartleby’s narrative.
” ( Borges 8 ) In the office scenes where the employees and foreman semen necessarily together. the “bug” word is Bartleby’s “prefer. ” Nippers uses it jeeringly against the storyteller as a transitive action verb when he overhears Bartleby’s words of refusal to the narrator’s supplication “to be a small sensible. ” Bartleby reverberations. “At present I would prefer non to be a small reasonable” ( 26 ) . If Nippers is enduring from his ain peculiar and chronic status of dyspepsia. he takes on the symptoms of Bartleby’s status when he exclaims to the storyteller. Prefer non. eh? …
– I’d prefer him. if I were you sir. I’d prefer him ; I’d give him penchants. the obstinate mule! What is it. sir. pray. that he prefers non to make now? ( 26 ) Whereas subsequently in the narrative the storyteller wholly loses his critical accomplishment to “catch” himself in his address. in this exchange he is still able to joint the consequence Bartleby’s “word” is holding on him. He notes uneasily. Somehow. of late. I had got into the manner of involuntarily utilizing the word ‘prefer’ upon all kinds of non precisely suited occasions. ( 27 ) It is this qualifier “not exactly” which is of peculiar involvement.
Bartleby’s usage of words is “not exactly” incorrect. “Prefer” is so insidious because it is merely somewhat awry. dislocated. idiosyncratic. As McCall accurately notes about the power of Bartleby’s “I prefer non to. ” “one must hear. in the small silence that follows it. how the line delivers two contradictory significances. stubbornness and niceness. “ ( 152 ) The line calls merely adequate attending to itself so as to pull others to its “profoundly assorted message” ( “its perfect yes and no” ) in an imitative manner ( McCall 152 ) . “Prefer” is as inobtrusive. as contagious. and every bit radical as a sneezing.
The storyteller lets it out of his oral cavity involuntarily. When Turkey enters the scene and uses the bug word without recognizing it ( without Nippers’ italicized lampoon or the narrator’s critical remarks ) . the storyteller says to him. in a “slightly excited” tone. “So you have got the word. too” ( 27 ) . In this polar sentence. the verb “get” implies “to receive” ( as in “to receive a word or message” ) . but more strikingly for our treatment here. it implies the verb “to catch” – one “catches” the word as one would “catch” a cold.
The storyteller attempts to supervise the contagious disease by calling the bug and indicating it out to the others. But the word mocks everyone’s will to command it “prefer” pops up six times in the following half a page — four times unconsciously in the address of one of the employees. and twice consciously ( modified by “word” ) in the narrative of the attorney. Bartleby could be described as a narrative of the familiarity – or anxiousness – a attorney feels for the law-copyist he employs. The storyteller arranges a screen in the corner of his office behind which Bartleby may work.
Pleased with the agreement of puting Bartleby behind the screen in close propinquity to his ain desk. the storyteller provinces. “Thus. in a mode. privateness and society were conjoined” ( 12 ) . The storyteller idealizes the possibility of a perfect harmoniousness between privateness and community in the work environment. but it is exactly the struggle between these two spatial “conditions” which generates the narrative. specifying non merely Bartleby’s “idiocy. ” but the narrator’s every bit good.
The storyteller most characteristically brushs Bartleby “emerging from his retreat” ( 13 ) or “retiring into his hermitage” ( 26 ) . The screen isolates Bartleby from the position of the storyteller. but non from his voice. Works Cited Borges. Jorge Luis. “Prologue to Herman Melville’s ‘Bartleby” in Herman Melville’s Billy Budd. “Benito Cereno. ” “Bartleby the Scrivener. ” and Other Tales. erectile dysfunction. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers. 1987 Inge. Thomas M. . erectile dysfunction.
Bartleby the Inscrutable. Hamden. Connecticut: Archon Books. 1979. McCall. Dan. The Silence of Bartleby. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1989. Melville. Herman. “Billy Budd” and Other Stories. New York: Penguin Books. 1986. Perry. Dennis R. “‘Ah. Humanity’ : Compulsion Neurosiss in Melville’s Bartleby. ” Studies in Short Fiction 23. 4 ( autumn 1987 ) : 407-415. Schehr. Lawrence R. “Dead Letterss: Theories of Writing in Bartleby the Scrivener” Enclitic seven. cubic decimeter ( spring 1983 ) : 96-103.