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Bartleby, The Scrivener A Short Story Written By Herman Melville

2117 words - 8 pages

“Bartleby, the Scrivener” is an intriguing short story written by Herman Melville for Putnam's magazine at a time when Melville was in need for money to support his family, shortly after the failure of Pierre in 1852 (Davis 183). The narrator of the work, who is also a practicing lawyer, opens with a description of himself, his employees, and the fact that his business has recently grown. Soon after, the narrator, hires an additional employee by the name of Bartleby, the namesake of this story. He then proceeds to tell the reader all he knows of Bartleby: how he started off working and copying as desired; how he then “preferred not to” do the small, simple tasks that were asked of him; how he was eventually fired but subsequently refused to leave the building, even when the lawyer moved his practice; how he was put into prison by the landlord of the building; and how he died of self- induced starvation while incarcerated. The narrator closes the story with a rumor that Bartleby had previously been employed at the Dead Letter Office, and that he, the narrator, feels pity and sympathy for the “poor soul” of Bartleby (Melville 129). After reading the narrative for the first time, the reader is left feeling the same sympathy, but there is also some confusion. What did Wall Street do to Bartleby that caused him to act the way he did? Could the lawyer have done anything to help him? Was the lawyer the cause of Bartleby's actions? Who was the protagonist; was it Bartleby or the narrator? While these are only some of the many questions about Bartleby, the answer to at least one is discussed throughout the following paragraphs. While Bartleby has many characteristics that cause him to be the object of sympathy for the story, he is not the protagonist, as many believe; rather, it is the lawyer, the narrator of the story, with whom the reader should empathize.
First of all, the lawyer is the narrator of the story, and, although he focuses much of the story on Bartleby, we know more about him than we do of Bartleby through both his actions and his thoughts. In addition to this, we only know Bartleby through the narrator’s eyes (Davis 184). Therefore, the reader only truly knows the lawyer; all the other characters in the narrative, including Bartleby, are merely his interpretations of them. They are filtered through his thoughts and memories and the reader is left to attempt to discern what they are really like. Also, by nature, the protagonist of a narrative is always going to be the narrator on the account of the readers' knowledge of the thoughts of the narrator as well as his or her actions.
Secondly, it can be deduced that the lawyer is the protagonist due to the fact that he is the one who experiences the conflict in the story. According to Todd Davis, this conflict has to do with the narrator's struggle between “horological comfort” and “chronometrical ideals,” or, in other words, his struggle between secular and divine principles...

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