Carl Jung, famous psychiatrist and long-time associate of Sigmund Freud, coined the terms “introvert” and “extravert” which quickly became part of all modern languages. Possibly the best example of an introvert in all literature is Herman Melville’s Bartleby, who works as a scrivener, a law-clerk whose chief duty is to make exact copies of important documents in the days before the unrelenting Industrial Revolution destroyed many dreary but formerly secure office jobs by producing photocopy machines, word processors, scanners, and fax machines. Melville’s short story “Bartleby the Scrivener” has received considerable attention from critics searching for its “meaning.” But Melville, like Moliere in “The Misanthrope,” may only have meant to call attention to the fact that such people as extreme introverts exist, not only in convents and monasteries, but in law offices and everywhere else.
Bartleby’s job is ideal for a man of his introverted personality type. The work can not only be done in complete isolation but actually requires solitude because of its exacting nature. Interruptions or distractions could cause the scrivener to make mistakes, which would not only jeopardize the accuracy of the document but even jeopardize the outcome of a legal case, since lawyers characteristically seek flaws in their opponents’ evidence and can make much out of a punctuation mark. Melville’s intention may be deduced from the interest readers have shown in this particular story. We are interested in Bartleby as a character because we recognize him as an example of introverts we have personally known, perhaps even as a caricature of ourselves.
Perhaps what we like about Bartleby is that he refuses to pretend to be anything other than what he is. He is a sort of introvert-hero, and we other introverts only wish we had his courage. The narrator of Melville’s story is a quintessential extravert, created, no doubt, to serve as a foil to his employee.
Bartleby is an introvert who, unlike most introverts, is true to himself. He refuses to pretend to be like his employer or his three co-workers, who are all—let’s face it—fools. They all react violently to Bartleby because he is a silent reproach to them. He makes them aware of their pettiness, and of their mortality, although he probably hasn’t the slightest desire to do anything of the kind.
Melville’s story shows how extraversion is so important in America and how introverts are often disliked and feared. Bartleby differs from most introverts in that he cannot and will not change or even pretend to change. It is the narrator who undergoes the change. The poor narrator almost seems like Coleridge’s ancient mariner who has to keep on repeating his story because he feels it is so essential to get every detail right, hoping perhaps that someone else will understand it and then explain it to him.