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Nippers, Ginger Nut, Turkey, Bartleby, The Narrator
1853, by Herman Melville
The narrator, a successful Wall Street lawyer, hires a scrivener named Bartleby to copy legal documents. Though Bartleby is initially a hard worker, one day, when asked to proofread, he responds, “I would prefer not to.” As time progresses, Bartleby increasingly “prefers not to” do anything asked of him. Eventually he dies of self-neglect, refusing offers of help, while jailed for vagrancy.
"Bartleby, the Scrivener" examines themes such as isolation, passive resistance, and the failure of communication.
The Narrator, Bartleby, Turkey, Nippers, Ginger Nut, The new tenants and the landlord, The Grub-man.
Melville wrote “Bartleby” at a time when his career seemed to be in ruins, and the story reflects his pessimism. Bartleby may represent Melville's frustration with his own situation as a writer, and the story is "about a writer who forsakes conventional modes because of an irresistible preoccupation with the most baffling philosophical questions." Bartleby may also represent Melville's relation to his commercial, democratic society.
Though no great success at the time of publication, "Bartleby, the Scrivener" is now among the most noted of American short stories. It has been considered a precursor of absurdist literature. Numerous critical essays have been published about the story, which scholar Robert Milder describes as "unquestionably the masterpiece of the short fiction" in the Melville canon. On November 5, 2019, the BBC News listed "Bartleby, the Scrivener" on its list of the 100 most influential novels.
“I would prefer not to.”
“Ah, happiness courts the light so we deem the world is gay. But misery hides aloof so we deem that misery there is none.”
“Nothing so aggravates an earnest person as a passive resistance.”
“To a sensitive being, pity is not seldom pain.”