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Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street

By Herman Melville (0)

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Readers of Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener” will not soon forget its protagonist’s stock phrase, “I would prefer not to.” The narrator is an elderly lawyer who becomes exasperated and puzzled by one of his scriveners, Bartleby. A clerk employed to copy legal documents, the once-industrious Bartleby first refuses to proofread a document, eventually arriving at the point where he refuses to complete his tedious work at all. It turns out that he has been sleeping in the building, apparently now homeless. The kindly narrator ultimately moves his staff out of the office, finding a new building complex to house his company, but Bartleby remains in the old building, refusing to leave even after his former employer offers him a home. When he is evicted and imprisoned, the narrator tries to ensure that he is fed well, but Bartleby starves himself and quietly dies. When the narrator discovers that Bartleby once worked in a dead letter office, he reflects on the depressing effect of such work, and realizes how Bartleby must have seen life - a gloomy haze. Melville's story of a one man’s ardent, almost simple refusal will challenge older students formulating their own views of life.