What is the significance of walls in "Bartleby the Scrivener, A Tale of Wall Street"?

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

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Well, to answer this question you would need to consider the ubiquitous references to walls in this text, that starts, of course, with the fact that this story is denoted as a tale of "Wall Street." The importance of walls is further established by the description of the walls that surround the narrator's office:

In that direction my windows commanded an unobstructed view of a lofty brick wall, black by age and everlasting shade; which wall required no spyglass to bring out its lurking beauties...

Walls surround Bartleby and, as his deterioration continues, also are what he focuses on as he engages in what the narrator describes as being "a dead-wall reverie." Walls are therefore an important motif that allows Melville to explore the ways in which individuals are trapped and imprisoned inside a capitalist economy where we are forced to become prisoners and exchange our labour for little perceivable benefit. We are all imprisoned and walled in by a financial and economic system that forces us to act in a certain way in order to continue survival. Bartleby's refusal to play this game could therefore be seen as a symbol of resistance to materialistic and capitalistic dominance. If this is so, it is a weak and fultile resistance, as his death shows.



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