After by the public on what the correct

the commercial failure of Melville’s Moby
Dick publication in 1851 he was depressed. As a result, he turned to
writing that was more marketable and started to write short stories. Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of
Wall-street, 1853 was one of his first magazine publication. When Melville
was rediscovered in the 1920, this specific piece of work has been hotly
debated from all his work. This is due to the fact the setting focuses on Wall
Street and the legal and business mentality. It is considered modern till this
date. This has to do with the fact that some of the elements apply hundred and
sixty years later. Since it is a Wall Street Story, a portion of the Manhattan
Island that has made New York the grand commercial crossroad of the world.
Melville uses allegory, ambiguity, and symbolism to react to cultural issues
related to class. Furthermore, he examines what would happen in a society where
people ditch the norms of society and do what they wish.

Melville might have written Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street out of frustration
of his previous commercially publication failure. He was always trying
something new in his writing, the first few works were quite successful. But, later
in his career most of the publication failed to gain a large audience. The
reference to the scrivener in Bartleby is an allegorical reference. During that
time a certain type of written was acceptable. Melville was told several times
by the public on what the correct way to write is. He was supposed to “copy” a


type of writing style. Since he decided to not follow the writing norms of the
society, the rest was history. He was barely able to meet his expenses, the
classical middle-class struggle. During the 1850s even though America was a
democracy it had low tolerance for innovative ideas.

Melville started to question if one could be a successful writer and at
the same time be themselves. Very soon he concluded that they couldn’t, and he
suffered the consequences of not following the norms. Susan Weiner stated that, “First, Melville does not want to
write something suitable for a mass market publication. He prefers not to
cater to popular taste… The lawyer writes the “original” document…
The scriveners then copy duplicates to make all involved have an identical
understanding… Individuals… mechanically reproduce… any mistake or discrepancy
among the copies would challenge the truthfulness underlying the whole system…” (Journal of American Culture Vol. 17 64). The job of a
scrivener is boring and repetitive and has no room for creativity. The copies
must look the same otherwise the so-called system will lose its equilibrium,
that is highly unacceptable. If one does as it wishes, is part of the
middle-class, and did not have a cushion to fall on the future did not look
bright for them. 

            The short story, Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of
Wall-street takes places in a law office located in a booming center of
commerce. The law office consists of several old men who only interact with
each other in a professional manner. The sense of impersonality plays a
significant role, suggesting that in the field they work there is no room for
personal interaction. Aside from what we know about each character and their
personality from office we don’t know anything, not even the narrator. As a
result, Melville is suggesting that neither does his short story have


room for
individual experiences.  Since the short
story lacks individuality, it is suggesting pessimism. This is because human
beings seem to be alienated from each other despite the fact they interact daily.
It raises question rather this is possible in an alternate setting. Melville is
suggesting an irony regarding the urban setting and loneliness. Even though you
are surrounded by tons of people in the city and the law practice you can still
be lonely.

            In “Bartleby the Scrivener” there is
an enormous amount of food reference. There are two lawyers Turkey and Ginger
Nut. Turkey is an Englishman who works as a copyist for the lawyer but has a
drinking problem. Ginger Nut is a twelve-year-old minor working as an intern
who runs errands for the employees. He is supposed to be learning about the law
practice but that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Instead he runs around
collecting snacks for the other employee. He ends up getting his name from the
chip spicy cookies he gets for Bartleby, Nippers, and Turkey. Over time the
lawyer notices that Bartleby lacks an appetite. The lawyer claimed, “He lives, then, on ginger-nuts,
thought I; never eats a dinner, properly speaking; he must be a vegetarian
then; but no; he never eats even vegetables, he eats nothing but ginger-nuts.
My mind then ran on in reveries concerning the probable effects upon the human
constitution of living entirely on ginger-nuts.” (Herman Melville 52-55). Food can be used as a symbolic
metaphor for desire and avarice. Since Bartleby doesn’t consume much food, it
suggests that he does not want to deal with avarice and desire of the
materialist world. In the end his preference of not to eat in prison caused his
death. This shows pessimism towards the American culture because it didn’t get
them anywhere and brought chaos.



Generally, the law office needs to have top notch
communication within the organization. However, there seems to be an ambiguity
in the communication. Everyone sorts of stays out of each other’s way. The
lawyer who is also the narrator of the story, seems to be putting up with bad
employees, Turkey and Nippers. He always backs out from confrontation because
he doesn’t want to go through the process of firing and hiring new employees.
It is because the communication problem that lands him in a mess with Bartleby.
When Bartleby camps out in office, the lawyer does not man up and firmly ask
him to leave the premises. Instead he rents out another office space to avoid
the conflict. Aside from the lawyer’s weakness, he has a high sense of personal
responsibility. This particularly is why he constantly checks on Bartleby. Even
when Bartleby is not his employee he feels responsible for him. Because of the
genuine sense of compassion shown by the lawyer it helps us identify ourselves
with his character. This is one of the few aspects that shows skepticism
towards America’s progress. This is because the lawyer is not giving up he
still has hope that things will be better with Bartleby. In addition, Melville
wants us to concern whether is better to tip toe around the problem or confront
it directly.

In the closing monologue, the symbolism of the dead letters
is revealed. Throughout the short story there were rumors about Bartleby
working in the dead- letter office. The lawyer claimed, “When I think over this rumor, I
cannot adequately express the emotions which seize me. Dead letters! does it
not sound like dead men? (Melville 250).
Since Bartleby was reading the letters intended for the dead recipient, it must
have been a depressing task. As a result, Bartleby eventually became emotionally
detached. The dead letter symbolized the emerging middle class blue collar jobs.
Since the task is repetitive it could quickly become hard to endure.


Even in
the twenty-first century, common cause of depression among employees is
repetitive task. Bartleby, probably switched jobs because it was becoming hard
to endure. Even though the environment was different in the law office its
similar work. His task at the law firm is to copy letters. He willingly did it
for some time, but he eventually gives up or “prefers not to.”   

Bartleby’s “punchline”, “I would prefer not to” and his
choice to die of starvation are allegorical representation. Back than and even
in the twenty first century, many workers perform continuous work that is
boring and eventually becomes a thoughtless job. The worker unquestioningly
complete tasks just for the paycheck. This allegory represents that death is preferable
to repetitive work. The prison clerk stated, “‘His dinner is ready. Won’t he dine to-day, either? Or does he
live without dining?” “Lives without dining”…and closed the eyes…” (Melville 246-247). Following the aftermath of the lawyer vacating
the office and another firm moving in, Bartleby is arrested. In prison he camps
out and does not consume any food. He does this in attempt to show that he does
not want to go back to doing the boring job that doesn’t pay well. He prefers
to die than go back to the working class’s everyday phenomena. The view towards
the improvements in the working class seems to be pessimistic.      

            The short story has a heavy emphasis
on charity and selfishness. It seemed to touch upon consumerism and materialism.
The lawyer believed he did “charity” by keeping Bartleby. Especially since he
knew that Bartleby will only cause trouble. The lawyer thought, “Poor fellow! thought I, he means no
mischief; it is plain he intends no insolence; his aspect sufficiently evinces
that his eccentricities are involuntary. He is useful to me. I can get along
with him. If I



turn him away, the chances are he will fall in with some less
indulgent employer, and then he will be rudely treated, and perhaps driven
forth miserably to starve.” The only reason that Bartleby is still not officially fired is because
he provides benefits to the lawyer. Since the lawyer keeps Bartleby in the office, through his thought process, the lawyer
pats himself on the back. He believed that because he is not firing him he
won’t be starving. In addition, the lawyer is suggesting that the best use of
Bartleby is for him to continue making copies. In other words, the lawyer
indirectly states he is not skilled for any other job. Melville is
demonstrating the superiority inferiority complex. Indirectly suggesting that
the wealthy lawyers is better than the working-class, Bartleby.  

            Turkey who is the oldest employee in
the law firm, does an excellent job in the morning. However, in the afternoon
he drinks for lunch and makes many mistakes in his work. He is from the working-class
background, who isn’t that wealthy. Financially, he probably just makes it
through the month. He cannot afford any other unnecessary expenses and his clothing
are wore and messy. The lawyer claimed, “His clothes were apt to look oily and smell of eating-houses.
He wore his pantaloons very loose and baggy in summer. His coats were
execrable; his hat not be to handled… The truth was, I suppose, that a man with
so small an income, could not afford to sport such a lustrous face and a
lustrous coat at one and the same time… One winter day I presented Turkey
with a highly-respectable looking coat of my own…” (Melville 11).  Even though the
lawyer offered Turkey his luxurious coat he did it for his own personal
benefit.  This is because he was worried
that it might make him look bad. If clients come to his office and observe that
the employees there smell he might lose clients. Furthermore, he had a selfish


motive when he gifted
Turkey a nice coat. The lawyer was hoping he would become productive in the
afternoon. It shows that the wealthy people of America cared more about their
reputation and would do anything to maintain it.

            The class struggle of Bartleby is
not directly implied. It is probably related to alienation and ideological
struggle. The struggle between the lawyer and the Bartleby cannot be understood
aside from the class polarization. The lawyer sort of treats his employee like
wage slaves. Barbara stated, “he erects screens and barriers between himself and them; he
views them as “useful” and “valuable”; and he reduces
individuality… viewing the scriveners’ peculiarities as intrinsic rather than
caused by their relation to him. He offers charity rather than higher wages…” (American Literature Vol. 72 87). The lawyer considers himself the
elite American and his employees are the less fortune ones. He seems to show
concern for his employees up to a certain extent. However, if he truly cared
about them then he would raise their wages. In addition, he doesn’t like to get
his hands dirty because if he wanted he could have easily thrown Bartleby out
of his office. He was probably concerned that his elite peers would form bad
opinions about him. This shows that the rich act like they want to help but in
the end, they care more about themselves.

            During the nineteenth century to
raise a family comfortably the average middle class needed to earn an annual
salary of $500. Bartleby situation represents downward mobility.  Richard once claimed, “During his stint as a government
clerk, Bartleby had almost certainly commanded a salary of at least
$1,000 a year. This was a considerable sum… In expensive



localities like New York City, where “Bartleby” is
set, that minimum for comfort could easily exceed $600.5 Yet it would have been
rare, if not unknown, for even the most enterprising law office copyist to make
half this sum.” (The New England
Quarterly Vol. 70 631). Bartleby might have become frustrated and upset with
the new circumstances. Even though the new job was not depressing it didn’t
earn him enough for him to make a proper living. The lawyer stated, “‘I owe you twelve dollars on account;
here are thirty-two; the odd twenty are yours.” (Melville 143). Despite the lawyer’s generosity the amount he received
wasn’t significant. Melville through Bartleby shows that financial struggles
that the working class faced during that time. It was hard for them to make
their regular living. This is also suggested by the fact that Bartleby starts
living in the office. He probably does not have a home to go back to, most
likely due to his recent downward mobility.

             The struggles of the
nineteenth century working class people still apply in the twenty-first
century. There are thousands of Americans that go to work everyday and do the
same repetitive task paycheck to paycheck. They might not enjoy and if they
decide to do their will they won’t have a roof on top of their head. If you
don’t follow instructions and tell your boss, “I would prefer not to” your
going to be given a box and asked to show yourself out. In certain situations,
it might be better to tip toe around the problem rather than confronting it
directly. Most of the working class makes minimum wage, barely having money
left at the end of the month. In an office setting, everyone must be well
groomed because the employees represent the place they work at. There is little
tolerance for mistakes, everything must be done correctly in and in a timely