Oh Bartleby! Oh humanity!


These are the last words of Herman Melville’s short story, Bartleby the Scrivener, and consequently, my favorite in the story.

It is about a lawyer and the scrivener he hires because he needs an extra pair of hands. He already has three people in his employ: a fat man, a rat-like man, and a young errand boy. The two men are scriveners, those who write and draw up legal documents. Bartleby comes along and initially does all the work requested of him, until he is required to submit his work to one of the other two fellows for editing. He refuses to do so. The exact line of the book is, “I would prefer not to.” This is all he says whenever he doesn’t want to do something. His employer allows it and slowly Bartleby gets worse. He lives in the office and refuses to leave; he doesn’t do what the lawyer pays him to do. In the end the lawyer vacates the office to escape Bartleby. A few weeks after he has left he hears of Bartleby’s demise in the building.

This story captivated me, merely because Bartleby kept getting worse and his behavior was allowed! The lawyer was so sympathetic to what he imagined Bartleby’s plight might be that he let Bartleby do whatever he wanted. I don’t think I would have allowed such acting out in an office of my own.

It was a very interesting tale, and I’d encourage you to read it, should you get the chance. It’s fairly short.

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