"Bartleby the Scrivener" was written by Herman Melville in 1853 and was first published in Putnam's Magazine in the November/December issue of that year. The plot involves one man's difficulty in coping with his employee's peculiar form of passive resistance. One day, Bartleby the scrivener announces that he "would prefer not to" follow his employer's orders or even to be "a little reasonable." The resulting tragedy follows from Bartleby's inability or unwillingness to articulate the reasons for his rebellion and from his employer's inability to comprehend Bartleby's reasons for resisting and ultimate unwillingness to accommodate him. The story has been interpreted by critics in numerous ways. Most have viewed it as a work of social criticism dealing with the psychological effects of capitalism as it existed in the 1850s. Others have viewed it as a philosophical meditation on the human condition, or as a religious parable on religion itself. However one interprets its ultimate meaning, the story provides an exploration into such universal issues of the human experience as alienation, passivity, nonconformity, and psychological imprisonment. The story's enduring appeal largely stems from its well-crafted ambiguity. It is highly admired for its remarkable ability to accommodate multiple interpretations.
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