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"In answer to advertisement, a motionless young man one morning, stood upon my office...

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kareemoo | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted May 23, 2013 at 10:02 PM via web

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"In answer to advertisement, a motionless young man one morning, stood upon my office threshold, the door being open, for it was summer. I can see that figure now- pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, incurably forlorn! It was Bartleby."

Explain how this quotation serves to clearly introduce the title character of Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Tale of Wall Street."

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 24, 2013 at 2:17 AM (Answer #1)

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From the start of Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener, A Tale of Wall Street," the scrivener is presented as a man of extreme "motionless;" he is pallid (or pale), pitiable and forlorn.

Pallid is defined as not only pale, but also "lacking in vitality and interest." This definition is especially applicable to Bartleby. While he is a veritable work horse when he first arrives, working by daylight and candlelight, there comes a time, much to his employer's dismay, that Bartleby refuses to fulfill requests to work that his boss puts to him:

In this very attitude did I sit when I called to him, rapidly stating what it was I wanted him to do—namely, to examine a small paper with me. Imagine my surprise, nay, my consternation, when without moving from his privacy, Bartleby in a singularly mild, firm voice, replied, “I would prefer not to.”

Bartleby will not accept encouragement or redirection to work, and ultimately refuses to complete any task asked of him—he refuses to copy any documents at all in the lawyer's office:

At all events, he would do no copying. At last, in reply to my urgings, he informed me that he had permanently given up copying [...] He would do nothing in the office...

When Bartleby's employer finally tries to end the man's employment, Bartleby refuses—he will not leave when he is fired.

I buttoned up my coat, balanced myself; advanced slowly towards him, touched his shoulder, and said, "The time has come; you must quit this place; I am sorry for you; here is money; but you must go."

"I would prefer not," he replied, with his back still towards me.

His employer also witnesses not only a decline in Bartleby's productivity, but also a lack of movement of any kind. For example:

Sometimes an attorney...calling at my office and finding no one but the scrivener there, would undertake to obtain some sort of precise information from him...but...Bartleby would remain standing immovable in the middle of the room.

He continues in this manner when he is taken to jail, charged with vagrancy.

Bartleby is pitiable, as seen in his employer's response to this peculiar man who will not work and will not leave:

Poor fellow, poor fellow! thought I, he don't mean any thing; and besides, he has seen hard times, and ought to be indulged. 

Forlorn is defined as lonely, sad, or "expressing of hopelessness;" unhappy and/or dreary. From the start, Bartleby is quiet and reserved. He expresses no emotion, but...

...Bartleby's demeanor suggests sadness or discontent...

He is described as "incurably forlorn," and this seems the case. Regardless of the many kindnesses, and excessive tolerance and charity extended by his employer, Bartleby's disposition never improves. If anything, the more his employer tries to help, the less satisfied Bartleby seems, until he simply stops participating in his own life. Ultimately, he stops eating. He lies down on the grass, seeming to fall asleep; there he quietly dies.

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