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Bartleby the Scrivener, A Tale of Wall Street

by Herman Melville

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How does the narrator’s admission that he is an “eminently safe” man help establish his point of view towards the events of the story? In what ways does his point of view change as a result of his association with Bartleby? Analyze the paragraph beginning “For the first time in my life a feeling of overpowering stinging melancholy seized me.” A clear reading of this passage may bring you closer to realizing the complexity of Melville’s portrayal of the lawyer’s relationship to Bartleby.

The narrator's admission that he is an "eminently safe" man helps the reader to understand his point of view regarding the events of the story. His admission helps to establish his character and point of view, which changes as a result of his association with Bartleby. It also helps to set up the element of self-examination in this story. The narrator’s first thought on being asked what he would do with Bartleby: “I should like to know that myself.” The narrator appears to be extremely confused by Bartleby’s behavior, and even more disconcerted by his lack of reaction towards him in return.

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As a "safe" and "prudent" man, the narrator positions himself to be a both a casual and unbiased observer of Bartleby. Indeed, in the first few paragraphs, his tone and diction indicate that he is simply relating a story of curiosity, almost in the way a scientist might report on some observance of animal behavior. By clinging so tightly to this view of himself, the narrator is letting himself become more susceptible to Bartleby's influence. Other adults around him - Turkey and Nippers specifically - are tied so closely to their instincts and emotions that they can dismiss Bartelby, taking little interest in him in comparison to the other aspects of life that interest them more. By being "safe", the narrator is admitting that he has few or no emotional ties to his own life experience. This allows him to handle his job very effectively, very rationally. It also allows him to examine Bartleby very closely.

It is this unbiased examination, however, that brings change to the narrator. By closely observing a man of little emotion, a man lacking any desire or any strong attachment to the world around him, the narrator realizes he is closely observing himself. He's looking in a mirror. The narrator may be amused by the fluctuations in character and temper that Turkey and Nippers experience as a result of the indulgences, but he realizes that they at least have a tie to this world. They have heart and passion - for food and drink, but it is still a reason for existing and getting through the day. The narrator, like Bartleby, has only work. What would happen if he [the narrator] began to lose interest in work the way that Bartleby has? What would he do with his time then?

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