In "Bartleby the Scrivner," why does Bartleby refuse to do what his boss asks? What is the significance of his refusal? Why does the lawyer not fire him in the beginning?

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First of all, Bartleby does not exactly "refuse" his work; instead, he repeatedly insists that he "prefers" not to do it. At first Bartleby "gorges himself" on his work and labors "silent, palely, mechanically." It is never clear why Bartleby's attitude toward his work changes—his motives are ambiguous, and this ambiguity is a big part of what makes Melville's story so compelling. The narrator (Bartleby's boss, the lawyer) tells us that he has discovered one clue to the mystery of Bartleby's behavior—that he once worked in a "Dead Letter Office," dealing with mail that never arrived at its destination. The narrator suggests that this could indicate that Bartleby is haunted by this soul-crushing experience.

However, Melville's choice to tell the story of Bartleby from the narrator's perspective is crucial. Arguably the story is as much about the narrator's reaction to Bartleby as it is about the mysterious scrivener himself. The narrator tells us he would have fired Bartleby right...

(The entire section contains 4 answers and 986 words.)

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