Bartleby the Scrivener, A Tale of Wall Street Questions and Answers

Herman Melville

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How does Bartleby embody the characterization of "introvert"?

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.