How does Melville portray the "human condition" in the story "Bartleby the Scrivener"?I should at least formulate one claim about Melville's portrayal of human nature and gather evidence from the...

How does Melville portray the "human condition" in the story "Bartleby the Scrivener"?

I should at least formulate one claim about Melville's portrayal of human nature and gather evidence from the text.

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

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Melville is very concerned with capturing the "human condition" in "Bartleby the Scrivener."  Consider the working conditions of all characters in the story.  They're in a cramped  space, practically on top of one another, doing the mundane and dissatisfying job of copying legal contracts by hand.  No one is really "normal" in this environment. Turkey and Nippers can really only put in a good day between them, as one is no good in the morning and one is relatively worthless in the afternoon.  Ginger Nuts is supposed to be apprenticing the law in some fashion but is relegated to mere errand boy.  Their office is not an environment conducive to productivity; Bartleby's window, for example, has a view of a wall.  They're all just trying to cope, and Bartleby kind of speaks for all workers of that day who were in such unfulfilling and unsatisfying jobs. 

This story is set just at the end of the Industrial Revolution, when workers were generally dissatisfied; Bartleby's "I would prefer not to" is the mantra of the working class who is moving into the world of working inside in what we would today call "cubicle jobs."  This, then,  is the "human condition" with which Melville is concerned--the plight of the working man, used to space and productivity, now crammed into offices doing work which is neither productive nor fulfilling.

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