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In "Bartleby the Scrivener," how does Bartleby use language to passive-aggressively get...

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litstudent59

Posted December 7, 2011 at 11:30 AM via web

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In "Bartleby the Scrivener," how does Bartleby use language to passive-aggressively get what he wants?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:59 PM (Answer #1)

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I often think of Bartleby as a character to imitate when I am given yet more work by my superior, and wish I had the courage to adopt the same methods, though, to be honest, I think we can say that his success in adopting these methods lies more in the kind-hearted sensitivity of the narrator of this excellent story than in any particular genius in his methods. Let us note that the repeated phrase he uses to respond to the narrator when asked to do something is: "I would prefer not to." Again and again, this phrase is met initially by anger and rage, but finally by perplexity by the narrator as he is diverted by other more important concerns:

"Very good, Bartleby," said I, in a quiet sort of serenely severe self-possessed tone, imtimating the unalterable purpose of some terrible retribution very close at hand. At the moment I half intended something of the kind. But upon the whole, as it was drawing towards my dinner-hour, I thought it best to put on my hat and walk home for the day, suffering much from perplexity and distress of mind.

Whereas we can see that another boss would have dealt with Bartleby much more aggressively and much sooner, the narrator of this story is unique in moving his working offices to try and get rid of Bartleby. It is his passive response to any attempt to get him to work that seems to win him success as he slowly fades out of working altogether.

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