“Bartleby, the Scrivener”
“Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” by Herman Melville is the tale of a young scrivener who rather than be remembered by his boss for his impeccable work and outstanding attitude is not forgotten because of his apathy towards life and the mysterious circumstances that made him act that way. In an essay, Graham Thompson, says that “the predominant themes in discussions of ‘Bartleby’remain changes in the nature of the workplace in antebellum America and transformations in capitalism” (395). Underneath the comic actions of Bartleby is a prophetic account of the service industry’s effect on a person during the rise of corporate America, as employees became numbers, and money and capitalism led to middle-class dissatisfaction which eventually led to conformism within it.
Kuebrich wrote in his criticism about “Bartleby” an interesting fact about Melville: “Various aspects of Melville's life—his family's economic decline, his futile search for work on the Erie Canal, in Galena, Illinois, and in New York City in the late 1830s, his subsequent decision to become a commercial sailor and whaler, and the quasi-enslavement he experienced at sea—gave him an acute personal sense of the discrepancy between the nation's economic practices and its purported democratic and Christian ideals, an understanding he would soon embody in one of his most baffling tales” (381). So it is no surprise in the irony that Melville chose the head of the office as the eyes through wish his story would be told, almost as if it was something unattainable for him in his real life. The narrator of the story is The Lawyer, a wealthy elder working in the growing financial center of the United States that was Wall Street in New York City: “Melville was aware of the material conditions and social forces that were transforming New York, and he skillfully incorporates many of these factors into ‘Bartleby.’ For instance, the story's setting reflects the city's lightning transformation into an industrial, commercial, and financial center” (Kuebrich, 384) His firm employed two copyists, Turkey and Nippers, and an errand boy called Ginger Nut. The narrator refers to them by these nicknames, not even mentioning their real names, which is exemplary of the lack of meaning given to subordinates at the corporate level at which these eccentric persons worked. Turkey is an elderly man, peer only in age to the narrator. He is a very productive person before midday, after which is age and physical state begin to shine through his work. Grouchy and short-tempered, he is inclined to make mistakes in his copying in the afternoon: “He would be incautious in dipping his pen into his inkstand. All his blots upon my documents were dropped there after twelve o’clock, meridian” (Melville, 316). When the lawyers attempts to coerce him into only working mornings, Turkey refuses, which prompts the Lawyer to give him tasks that aren’t that important after noon.
Nippers is the exact opposite, becoming more and more efficient as the day progresses. A man who does not know exactly what he wants, Nippers does things that annoy the Lawyer just like Turkey does. But, they are dependable and loyal, and the Lawyer does not part with them, as he needs both of them for a balanced workday: So that Turkey’s paroxysms only coming on about twelve o’clock, I never had to do with their eccentricities at one time. Their fits relieved each other like guards. When Nippers’ was on, Turkey’s was off, and vice versa. This was a good natural arrangement under the circumstances. (Melville, 318)
This interdependency needed to produce arises from the dissatisfaction of the working class, which results in productivity not being constant in an individual in the service industry. Ginger Nut, a boy of twelve years old, who of his few responsibilities enjoys fetching pastries for Turkey and Nippers the most is the last of the Lawyer’s employees. From a young age he is already...
Cited: Tymieniecka. Netherlands: Springer. 2005. 119-138.
Giles, Todd. “Melville’s Bartleby, The Scrivener.” Explicator. 65.2 (2007): 88-91
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