Essay: Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street by Herman Melville

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  • Subject area(s): English literature essays
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  • Published on: January 19, 2020
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  • Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street by Herman Melville
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Melville has written a complex story that questions his reader’s humanity and empathy for charity work and those emotionally and economically unstable. Although the story is named after Bartelby the real main character is the lawyer. The story is told from the lawyer’s eyes and tells his view and association of the life of Bartleby. They don’t have a relationship but do end up changing each other in the end.

This first-person narrative is the thoughts and opinions of the lawyer himself. How he sees himself and his thoughts and opinions of the world and people around him is strictly personal. The lawyer is the character whose personal troubles play out in the story, and the one who readers empathize the most. Many readers can relate to the various emotions portrayed throughout, and compare it to charity work per say. Due to the context of the narration, readers gain some limited knowledge of the lawyer’s backstory and the scene is set to introduce his world and thoughts. The lawyer is a character who experiences the most change throughout the story. By the end, he has come full round from being a Wall Street level lawyer doing the bare minimum to keep his position, to embracing his weaknesses as a human being and feeling remorse and a newfound understanding of his role in the world. “I am a man who, from his youth upwards, has been filled with a profound conviction that the easiest way of life is the best. Hence, though I belong to a profession proverbially energetic and nervous, even to turbulence, at times, yet nothing of that sort have I ever suffered to invade my peace.” (. )

In the opening of the story, he admits to being unambitious and putting little care into his job, until it is required of him. We experience this character go beyond the requirements of his job- to kick out the homeless employee, squatting in his practice- to feigning a lack of knowledge about his unstable employee’s whereabouts in the building. From here, the lawyer moves his practice across town, because he sympathizes Bartleby, and would rather shake his perfect life on Wall Street than take responsibility for another human being. At first, the lawyer is angered by Bartleby’s attitude and actions towards his job and life, but eventually his eyes open to a deeper understanding that he is in a position to help someone and must make some decisions that will ultimately affect another person’s life.

In the end it is no longer a well-paid lawyer and a homeless man, but two human beings who came into each other’s lives; one of which challenges the emotions and actions of another. “The bond of a common humanity now drew me irresistibly to gloom. A fraternal melancholy! For both I and Bartleby were sons of Adam.”(. ) All throughout, readers see first-hand the emotional challenges and internal doubt that the lawyer struggles with. Despite his actions and choices regarding Bartleby, it is not until the lawyer revisits Bartleby in the Tombs and sees him dead, does he experience his epiphany, or realization of the events that have lead up to this moment. “Something prompted me to touch him. I felt his hand, when a tingling shiver ran up my arm and down my spine to my feet.” (. ) He requested a meal for the man but upon news of his death, he murmurs, “Lives without dining… with kings and counselors.”(. ) There is a religious aspect to this story. Bartleby has found death, but the lawyer believes him to be in heaven, passing his judgement test and dining like a King. Bartleby was a good man, one the lawyer hopes to follow in the same footprints.

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