How does Bartleby embody the characterization of "introvert"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Bartleby, from Herman Melville's short story "Bartleby the Scrivener, A Tale of Wall Street," embodies the characterization of the "introvert" in various ways. In fact, the reader is quickly informed by the story's narrator, the lawyer for whom Bartleby has come to work as a scrivener, that "While of other law-copyists I might write the complete life, of Bartleby nothing of that sort can be done." An introvert's trait of not routinely engaging in small talk can be inferred from the narrator's observation.

Similarly, introverts prefer working alone and will often refrain, if at all possible, from working on assignments in groups. While Bartleby initially completed long and dull copying projects efficiently on his own, joining others to participate in even quick tasks was not an option for him. This is seen not only later in the story, when Bartleby will not join the rest of the office in reviewing a document, but even early on, when Bartleby is asked to "examine a small" paper with only the lawyer:

In this very attitude did I sit when I called to him, rapidly stating what it was I wanted him to do—namely, to examine a small paper with me. Imagine my surprise, nay, my consternation, when without moving from his privacy, Bartleby in a singularly mild, firm voice, replied, "I would prefer not to."

"I would prefer not to" becomes, throughout the story, Bartleby's most consistent and effective refrain, enabling him to engage or, more accurately, not engage according to his preference.

Also, introverts typically prefer solitude or will seek out solitude, especially after social interactions. Bartleby epitomizes this characteristic to the extreme. When describing his horror at discovering that Bartleby is in fact living in his law offices, the lawyer concludes,

His poverty is great; but his solitude, how horrible! Think of it. Of a Sunday, Wall-street is deserted as Petra; and every night of every day it is an emptiness. This building too, which of week-days hums with industry and life, at nightfall echoes with sheer vacancy, and all through Sunday is forlorn. And here Bartleby makes his home; sole spectator of a solitude which he has seen all populous—a sort of innocent and transformed Marius brooding among the ruins of Carthage!

Not being an introvert himself, the lawyer cannot fathom, so much so that his language exudes hyperbole, the misery of one who would choose such a "forlorn" existence.

Finally, and perhaps a most discouraging fact of introversion, is that those who are not typically socially engaged are often thought of in unfavorable ways. Bartleby's passiveness and lack of verbal forthrightness is mistaken by the lawyer for "haughtiness":

And more than all, I remembered a certain unconscious air of pallid—how shall I call it?—of pallid haughtiness, say, or rather an austere reserve about him, which had positively awed me into my tame compliance with his eccentricities.

Bartleby, like many introverts, does not have the social resources, nor the inclination, to adhere to societal expectations. He is truly a fascinating character, and perhaps his introversion is one of the reasons why!

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Introverts are individuals who derive energy from being alone. They tend to prefer solitary activities and become exhausted if forced to interact with other people for too long a period.

Bartleby seems a classic introvert. He does not interact with his coworkers much. He is often alone. He appears to have no social life beyond his workplace.

However, Bartleby is not an example of a healthy introvert. He is morose. He is not active. He eventually stops doing his work, telling his boss he would "prefer not to" anytime he is called out on it. Eventually, he dies in prison, allowing himself to waste away.

Bartleby is utterly apathetic about everything, and this apathy seems a greater key to his character than his introversion. Even introverts, quiet as they seem, usually have passions and drives. Bartleby is an introvert, but he is certainly not a typical example.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Melville's story "Bartleby the Scrivener" is a study of an introvert before the terms "introvert" and "extrovert" were coined by C. G. Jung, the famous psychiatrist. Here is an excerpt from Jung's discussion of introverts in his book Psychological Types:

The introvert is not forthcoming, he is as though in continual retreat before the object. He holds aloof from external happenings, does not join in, has a distinct dislike of society as soon as he finds himself among too many people. In a large gathering he feels lonely and lost. The more crowded it is, the greater becomes his resistance. He is not in the least “with it,” and has no love of enthusiastic get-togethers. He is not a good mixer. What he does, he does in his own way, barricading himself against influences from outside. He is apt to appear awkward, often seeming inhibited, and it frequently happens that, by a certain brusqueness of manner, or by his glum unapproachability, or some kind of malapropism, he causes unwitting offence to people. His better qualities he keeps to himself, and generally does everything he can to dissemble them. He is easily mistrustful, self-willed, often suffers from inferiority feelings and for this reason is also envious. His apprehensiveness of the object is not due to fear, but to the fact that it seems to him negative, demanding, overpowering or even menacing. He therefore suspects all kinds of bad motives, has an everlasting fear of making a fool of himself, is usually very touchy and surrounds himself with a barbed wire entanglement so dense and impenetrable that finally he himself would rather do anything than sit behind it.

The lawyer who serves as narrator of Melville's story is just the opposite type of character, chosen no doubt for the sake of contrast. The narrator is an easygoing extrovert who tolerates all kinds of people and takes an interest in everyone, including Bartleby. In fact, the lawyer's other three employees, Turkey, Ginger Nut, and Nipper, also seem to be extroverts, so that poor Bartleby is surrounded by people who cannot understand him, are likely to consider him a freak, and make their opinions of him known.

One especially striking trait of introverts is that they like to work alone. Bartleby has chosen an occupation that allows him to do just that, but a time comes when his employer asks him to join him and the entire staff in reading a legal document. If Bartleby only had to read it with his employer, he might have consented, but to have to do so with his employer and three other men was more than he could bear.

Introverts have always existed and make up a significant part of the general population. It may have been Herman Melville who first identified them as a distinct psychological type. Introverts, according to Jung, often try or pretend to be extroverts in a society that favors extroversion, as ours certainly does. Jung asserts in Psychological Types that trying to be something radically different from what one really is can lead to neurosis, and the cure is for the neurotic to recognize and assert the neurotic's true nature.

The introvert is far more subject to misunderstanding than the extrovert, not so much because the extrovert is a more merciless or critical adversary than he himself might be, but because the style of the times which he himself imitates works against him. He finds himself in the minority, not in numerical relation to the extrovert, but in relation to the general Western view of the world as judged by his feeling.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial