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What motivates Bartleby's behavior?

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swammy35 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 3, 2011 at 12:51 PM via web

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What motivates Bartleby's behavior?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 15, 2011 at 10:56 AM (Answer #1)

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Herman Melville's Bartleby in "Bartleby the Scrivener" is both a simple and a complex character. This is actually a good question, since almost the only thing we know about Bartleby is what he would "prefer not to" do.

We know he begins his job in this law office as an industrious scrivener, and he only gets recalcitrant when he is asked to work with others and proofread aloud. From this we can make a general assumption that Bartleby is motivated by working at something which is solitary and does not require human interaction.

Other than that, we know that he is NOT motivated by money, people, or even the reality of imprisonment. His previous job at the post office in the dead letter office seems to have sucked out of him all common human emotions such as friendship and love. Instead, he seems to be moved only by his need for solitude.

Lori Steinbach

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted July 27, 2012 at 10:59 AM (Answer #2)

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Possibly the best example of an introvert in all literature is Herman Melville’s Bartleby, who works as a scrivener, a law-clerk whose chief duty is to make exact copies of important documents in the days before the unrelenting Industrial Revolution destroyed many dreary but formerly secure office jobs by producing photocopy machines, word processors, scanners, fax machines, and other such devices. Melville’s short story “Bartleby the Scrivener” has received considerable attention from critics searching for its “meaning.” But Melville, like Moliere in his play "The Misanthrope," may only have meant to call attention to the fact that such people as extreme introverts exist, not only in convents and monasteries but in law offices and everywhere else.

Bartleby’s job is ideal for a man of his introverted personality type. The work can not only be done in complete isolation but actually requires solitude because of its exacting nature. Interruptions or distractions could cause the scrivener to make mistakes, which would not only jeopardize the accuracy of the document but even jeopardize the outcome of a legal case, since lawyers characteristically seek flaws in their opponents’ evidence and can make much out of a punctuation mark. Melville’s intention may be deduced from the interest readers have shown in this particular story. We are interested in Bartleby as a character because we recognize him as an example of introverts we have personally known, perhaps even as a caricature of ourselves.

 

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