Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The wealth of thematic possibilities in “Bartleby the Scrivener” has made it perhaps the most analyzed of all American short stories. Much of this analysis centers on the title character, who is seen as a forerunner of alienated modern man, as the victim of an indifferent society, as a nonconformist—perhaps even a heroic one—who becomes isolated simply for daring to assert his preferences. Another interpretation, built around Bartleby’s role as a writer of sorts, claims that Herman Melville’s story is a parable of the isolation of the artist in a materialistic society that not only is indifferent to its writers but also is bent on their destruction.
Such views, while having varying degrees of validity, ignore the fact that “Bartleby the Scrivener” is dominated by the sensibility of its narrator and his search for the truth, a search that is ironic because he is incapable of any objective understanding of Bartleby and his seemingly perverse preferences. Not Bartleby’s actions or passivity but the narrator’s responses to his copyist are what is important.
Early in the story, the lawyer describes himself as “an eminently safe man,” one “who, from his youth upwards, has been filled with a profound conviction that the easiest way of life is the best.” He makes allowances for Turkey and Nippers because that is the easiest way to deal with them, but he is unable to understand why he cannot similarly control Bartleby....
(The entire section is 519 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Bartleby the Scrivener, A Tale of Wall Street Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!