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Bartleby, the Scrivener: Melville, the Genius Essay

“Bartleby, the Scrivener” is a novella about a young copyist who is hired for his expertise by the narrator - a Wall Street lawyer. He is initially happy with Bartleby’s work, as Bartleby possesses exemplary skills and dedication. Then suddenly, Bartleby falls into a clinical depression and refuses to do anything, because he “would prefer not to” (Melville, 1853). First, he refuses to work, and then he refuses to go home after being dismissed from work, and turns the office into his residence. When he is arrested for vagrancy, he refuses to eat until he starves to death. This tragic end of a promising young man compels the narrator to feel intense sorrow for him and humanity in general. However, the feelings of remorse came too little too late. This essay reveals the similarities that are apparent between Bartleby and the narrator, and by extension, the writer’s creative life (Snodgrass, n.d).

Was Herman Melville trying to pass on a message to his critics who dismissed his previous works? Could it be an expression of refusal to conform to societal expectations? After the harsh criticism of his earlier literary works, Melville abandoned fiction writing for a while. In comparison, Bartleby abandoned everything in his life. Today, the literary world appreciates Melville’s creative genius many years after his death (SparkNotes Editors, n.d.). Just as the narrator shows remorse after Bartleby’s death, Melville foresaw that people would come to regret their failure to recognize his talent and his refusal to ape other writers’ literary styles. His publishers and critics failed to understand the inward torment that Melville was going through as he tried to conform to their expectations (Snodgrass, n.d). Eventually, he preferred not to be their puppet but decided to adopt a unique writing style. The society had abandoned both Bartleby and Melville. Thus, Bartleby’s death is a reflection of Melville’s creative disillusionment.


Melville, H. (1853). Bartleby, the Scrivener: A story of Wall Street. Retrieved January 28, 2012 from http://books.google.co.ke/books?id=FQHLS7VsoNsC&printsec=frontcover&dq=bartleby,+herman++melville&hl=en&sa=X&ei=rZsjT7DcAsjKrAedoMCjCA&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=bartleby%2C%20herman%20%20melville&f=false Snodgrass, M. E. (n.d). CliffsNotes on Bartleby, the Scrivener. Retrieved 28 Jan 2012 from

SparkNotes Editors. (n.d.). SparkNote on Melville Stories. Retrieved January 28, 2012 from http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/melvillestories/

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