What is the lawyer's attitude toward Bartleby and how does it change in "Bartleby the Scrivener, A Tale of Wall Street"?

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cneukam1379 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narrator asserts that he is the type of lawyer "who never addresses a jury, or in any way draws down public applause"—he is "safe." So it is even more of an irony that Bartleby will come into contact with the narrator because Bartleby makes this safe lawyer incredibly uncomfortable. When Bartleby first "prefers not to" answer to the lawyer's call, the narrator admits that he feels "surprise, nay . . . consternation." He is also "stunned" into silence by this refusal.

The second time that Bartleby "prefers not to" do something, the narrator states the following: 

With any other man I should have flown outright into a dreadful passion, scorned all further words, and thrust him ignominiously from my presence. But there was something about Bartleby that not only strangely disarmed me, but in a wonderful manner touched and disconcerted me.

This disarming effect comes partly because Bartleby does not outright refuse the narrator. By "preferring not to" do something, he is not saying no, but he is also not agreeing. For a lawyer, someone who reasons and uses logic in his profession, the lawyer is "disarmed" as he says above. In the end, the narrator escapes Bartleby instead of firing him altogether.

By the end of the story, the narrator admits that he cannot shake his connection with Bartleby. He attempts to make Bartleby's life in the Tombs (a prison) better by paying the grub-man to give Bartleby good food, but it is not enough. Bartleby dies by a wall in the yard without much notice. The narrator's final comment of "Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!" shows how much this seemingly difficult man has changed the narrator. The narrator can no longer claim that he is "safe."

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The lawyer who hires Bartleby as a clerk is at first pleased with his diligence and good work habits. He later becomes becomes frustrated and perplexed as Bartleby begins picking and choosing what work he will do. When Bartleby tells the lawyer, "I would prefer not to," in response to being given an assignment, the lawyer responds as follows:

 I looked at him steadfastly. His face was leanly composed; his gray eye dimly calm. Not a wrinkle of agitation rippled him. Had there been the least uneasiness, anger, impatience or impertinence in his manner; in other words, had there been any thing ordinarily human about him, doubtless I should have violently dismissed him from the premises. But as it was, I should have as soon thought of turning my pale plaster-of-paris bust of Cicero out of doors. 

Bartleby increasingly becomes a problem for the lawyer, moving from working when he feels like it to neither working nor leaving the office. The lawyer also becomes more and more curious about him. He finds Bartleby's "passive resistance" annoying, but he also has a grudging respect for him. He feels sorry for Bartleby, who seems entirely alone in the world. Finally, however, he moves offices to get rid of Bartleby. Bartebly shows up at the new offices until he is finally taken off by the police.

At the end, the lawyer believes he has found the key to Bartleby's strange quirks in the fact that he once worked for the Dead Letter Office. The lawyer ends up sympathetic to his strange employee, believing that Bartleby's hopelessness was exacerbated by his experiences handling letters that never arrived at their destinations. 

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Bartleby the Scrivener, A Tale of Wall Street," the lawyer's initial attitude toward Bartleby is one of optimism and good will. He recognizes a proficiency and skill in Bartleby's clerical abilities that perfectly suit the needs he has. In addition, he recognizes in Bartleby a quietness and sobriety of spirit that suits him, therefore he positions Bartleby's desk in his own portion of the offices on his side of the partition to have Bartleby within easy summons for special tasks.

After Bartleby undergoes his change, sits in reveries staring at the dead wall out his window, and prefers not to do any copying or proofreading, the lawyer's attitude changes to one of confusion and bewilderment toward Bartleby. The lawyer has already firmly established that he doesn't give in to anger nor does he "indulge in dangerous indignation at wrongs and outrages," so he never descends to anger at Bartleby, even through the worst of the peculiarities leading up to Bartleby's arrest for vagrancy and his subsequent death.

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