Bartleby is an anomaly in the short story “Bartleby the Scrivener.” The narrator is a lawyer who hires people to copy and proofread. This attorney is one who recognizes individual norms, adapts to the patterns that unfold around him, and is firmly rooted in the way things are expected to unfold. He is an observer who gathered his wits and all else that was necessary to succeed in his profession and ventured out thusly into a realm that continued to perform within the range of normalcy he found permissible. That all changed, however, when his staff’s population increased via an imperceptible mentality. This essay will delve into the role that Bartleby played in “Bartleby the Scrivener” as a tenant beyond the outer rims of human expectancy.
The narrator initially had two scriveners, Turkey and Nippers. Both of them had unique personalities that the lawyer was able to pin down with relative ease. Turkey was a hard worker whose demeanor dwindled in the later hours of the day, birthing a plethora of errors, resulting in being assigned tasks of lesser importance after the morning waned. He was also quite prideful of his contributions to the workforce, which impeded his employer’s attempts to curb his shoddy performance. Nippers struggled with stomach unease and discomfort relative to the position of his desk. He moved about and adjusted his surroundings without a longstanding resolution, but as the sun would begin to set, his antics lessened until he reached a rather tranquil state. Like counterparts, Turkey struggled emotionally, while Nippers’ shortcomings were primarily physical in nature. The former excelled in the morning while the latter shone most brightly when the sky did not, creating the peak of excellence in one employee at all times. In essence, these were men of simple description and laborless understanding. However, this was not so with the newcomer Bartleby, and as so accurately put, “Bartleby continues to challenge the ease and logic in the narrator’s life” (Sullivan 1).
The quality of Bartleby’s output had no clear distinction between day and night, and both his emotional and physical norms were called into question. When asked to carry out certain tasks of which he did not delight, he calmly replied, “I prefer not to” (Melville 9). There was no irritancy or impatience, no understandable emotion tied to such a response that would allow the lawyer a typical retort. The strange juxtaposition of defiant words with meek tonality threw the attorney into mental disarray to the point that discipline strayed beyond his actions. As for a perplexing physical aspect, Melville explained that he didn’t take a normal dinner break and seemed to eat little more than ginger nuts (10). The lawyer’s head swirled with speculation as he tried to grasp the behavior of his new scrivener.
Bartleby served as a puzzle, an unsolvable riddle, an anomalous being in the office. Rather than focusing on work, Bartleby seemed to occupy the forefront of the lawyer’s thought process, as he wasn’t accustomed to being inadept at analyzing his subordinates. Scrivening became less pertinent as the peculiarity of Bartleby stepped more into the light. His role in the story was to redirect its current into himself even though it was never able to truly reach him.
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