Melville's "Bartleby The Scrivener": Humorous Or Tragic?

943 words - 4 pages

If ever there are two opposite themes offered in the telling of one tale, it is in Herman Melville's short story, "Bartleby the Scrivener". As his perspective swings between the objective and subjective, so swings the theme from comedy to tragedy. Regardless of the two perspectives from which Herman Melville relates the story of Bartleby, the telling of a tragic story with humorous subjectivity, the story's plot and outcome determines the categorization. In fact, had Melville not peppered the story with his narrative, light-hearted, internal musings, and shared with the audience a "grasping at straw" style of rationalization, the main theme could only have been categorized as tragic. Regardless of the two perspectives from which Herman Melville relates the story of Bartleby, the telling of a tragic story sprinkled with humorous subjectivity, the actual story line, through its progression should determine its categorization. For this reason, Bartleby the Scrivener, is a tragedy.Throughout the story Melville relates the many troubling incidents experienced with the mysterious copier. Bartleby's reactions to his superior are so unlike those which most of us have ever experienced, human nature causes the reader to attempt to apply logic to his eccentricities. When asked to proofread a copy, Bartleby's outrageous answer is, "I prefer not to". Having just been introduced to Bartleby and still formulating a first impression, the audience is required to grapple with a logical explanation for his troubling behaviour. At that point, Melville introduces his first bit of comic relief, enlisting the audience's empathy in stating, "To befriend Bartleby; to humour him in his strange wilfulness will cost me little or nothing, while I lay up in my soul what will eventually prove a sweet morsel for my conscience". Since there is no excusing Bartleby's behaviour, Melville finds solace in rationalizing his reaction and the reader is quick to empathize, having found no explanation for the behaviour.When his conscience no longer provides for rationalizing the acceptance of Bartleby's strange behaviour, Melville invites the reader to appreciate the behaviour's usefulness. To some degree, the "little guy" in us is somewhat envious of Bartleby's statement, "I prefer not to". How many times would we have used this statement in our lives if we had no fear of the repercussions? As the story progresses and Bartleby's behaviour is becoming the norm, the banter between Mr. Nippers, Turkey and the lawyer becomes filled with the word "prefer", the expression which has caused everyone such grief up to that point. After suggesting that Bartleby "would prefer to take a quart of good ale every day", Turkey states, "Oh. Prefer? Oh yes - queer word. I never use it myself". He then replies, "Oh, certainly, sir, if you prefer that I should", upon being...

Find Another Essay On Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener": Humorous or Tragic?

The Plight of the Common Man in Herman Melville's Bartleby, the Scrivener

4414 words - 18 pages opening in a dome? (2407). Relegated to the least hopeful and most depressing conditions of existence, Bartleby is never free from his confinement. Alienated from other human beings, sequestered from the inspiration of light, and denied the possibility of advancement or a better life, he suffers from internal and external impotence; the walls that separate the scrivener and the lawyer "destroy the universality and immortality of being" (Stovall

Herman Melville's now famous story "Bartleby the Scrivener". Melville wrote this, just after he wrote Moby Dick.

1091 words - 4 pages Bartleby the ScrivenerHerman Melville wrote 'Bartleby the Scrivener' towards the end of his declining career. Melville, wrote Bartleby after he wrote his now famous book "Moby Dick". However, in Melville's time Moby Dick was not the hit it is today. Perhaps in Melville's eyes, his career as a writer was not going the way he desired. In order to support his family and continue to earn a living, Melville continued to write novels. It is rather

"Bartleby, the Scrivener"

932 words - 4 pages lawyer and Bartleby is portrayed in the lack of plot in "Bartleby the Scrivener." The simple story of the scrivener forces the reader to make his or her own conclusions about what sort of characters the lawyer and Bartleby are. Melville's choice to employ a simple plot to reveal complex characterizations of humanity shows the author's plan to make the reader interpret the theme for him or herself. Without a complex plot, the author must use other

Bartleby The Scrivener

2020 words - 8 pages believes is the theme in Herman Melville's short story, Bartleby the Scrivener. The concept of being useful in society or be cast out by it is a living fact. To prove one's usefulness, most people have professions and other means of contributing to their environment. In this manner, they are able to interact and share their ideas with each other. However, the case of Bartleby is much different. Bartleby refuses altogether to contribute and share a part

"Bartleby the Scrivener"

893 words - 4 pages The story of "Bartleby the Scrivener" is very pessimistic. There seems to be much more to Bartleby than the loser image he exudes. Bartleby seems to be living in his own world, which makes him dead to the real world that surrounds him. It is hard to figure out what caused him to end up this way, but the "dead letters" job he had is definitely one of the events that led him to end up "preferring not to".The definition of "loser" is "one who is

Bartleby The Scrivener

735 words - 3 pages The Walls Surrounding Bartleby Walls can separate and isolate people from the world. They can be physical walls that are around a person, or they can be figurative in the sense that a person can put walls around themselves, their lives, and their feelings. Herman Melville?s short story, ?Bartleby the Scrivener,? uses walls as symbols to show how the main character Bartleby is physically and mentally isolated with a lack of communication from the

Bartleby the Scrivener

1759 words - 7 pages In Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener”, a story of “the strangest” law-copyist the narrator, a lawyer, has ever employed is told. The narrator experiences conflict with Bartleby when he “prefers not to” examine some law papers. Once Bartleby “prefers not to” once, he continues to repeat the statement on all request asked of him. This statement sends Bartleby into a state of tranquility, staying isolated in the cubical and refusing all

Bartleby, the Scrivener

1441 words - 6 pages those who follow the government or other system, voting, but not doing. To fix a wrong in the community, the community must passively resist the needs of the system and find time to act in a way to fight an unjust action. Works Cited Melville, Herman. "Bartleby, the Scrivener." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. Shorter 8 ed. Vol. 1. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2012. 112-19. Print. Teresa, Mother. "“Being Unwanted

“Bartleby, the Scrivener”

660 words - 3 pages In the short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” which was written by Herman Melville, the character named Bartleby is a very odd, yet interesting individual. In the story, Bartleby is introduced when he responds to a job opening at the narrator’s office. Although there is no background information given about him, it becomes very apparent that he will be the antagonist in this story. Unlike the usual image put on the antagonist, Bartleby causes

Herman Melville's Bartlevy, the Scrivener

1286 words - 6 pages “Bartleby, the Scrivener”, is both intriguing and complex. This short story written in the first person sense by Herman Melville, introduces the character of a no-name lawyer who serves as the narrator of the story. This lawyer is perplexed by an employed scrivener working in his office named, Bartleby. It is interesting to look at the relationship that the lawyer has to Bartleby both psychologically and emotionally. While the narrator seems

Bartleby the Scrivener: Lawyer Double

1074 words - 4 pages Bartleby the Scrivener, by Herman Melville is a novella about a nameless lawyer who has in his employ a scrivener named Bartleby. Bartleby, throughout the novella, has different periods of work. In the beginning, he does his scrivening without reprimand or without hesitation, but as the novella progresses his attitude toward work changes drastically. Mordecai Marcus’ critical essay on the novella makes some good points, such that Bartleby is a

Similar Essays

Herman Melville's Bartleby, The Scrivener Essay

3556 words - 14 pages Herman Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener" The narrator states fairly early on in Herman Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener" that both he and Bartleby are "sons of Adam" (55). The phrase plays on a double entendre, referring to both the Calvinist Biblical Eden and to the view of America as the "new Eden." Many recent critics have traced the biblical aspects of this and other elemen ts of the story, claiming the character of Bartleby as a

Herman Melville's Bartleby The Scrivener Essay

554 words - 2 pages Bartleby- The Scrivener In Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener”, the author uses several themes to convey his ideas. The three most important themes are alienation, man’s desire to have a free conscience, and man’s desire to avoid conflict. Melville uses the actions of an eccentric scrivener named Bartleby, and the responses of his cohorts, to show these underlying themes to the reader. The first theme, alienation, is displayed best by

Herman Melville's Bartleby The Scrivener Essay

554 words - 2 pages personally giving permission for an individual to ignore anything he or she finds morally unacceptable. However, in “Bartleby,” Bartleby’s boss places no unjust laws and assigns no unjust work. He simply asks Bartleby to do easy tasks such as, “when those papers are all copied, I will compare them with you”, or, “just step around the Post Office, won’t you? And see if there is anything for me” (Melville 116). The boss, who is also the narrator

Herman Melville's Story, Bartleby, The Scrivener

1002 words - 4 pages In Herman Melville's short story, Bartleby, the Scrivener, the narrator's attitude towards Bartleby is constantly changing, the narrator's attitude is conveyed through the author's use of literary elements such as; diction-descriptive and comical, point of view-first person, and tone-confusion and sadness. One of the literary elements that Melville uses that convey the narrator's attitude towards Bartleby is diction. The author's diction in