Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street is a short story by Herman Melville, published anonymously in 1853 in Putnam's Monthly Magazine. It was collected in his 1856 volume The Piazza Tales. Herman Melville wrote this story in 1853, two years after Moby Dick had been published and his writing career was beginning to lose its luster. ...
Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street is a short story by Herman Melville, published anonymously in 1853 in Putnam's Monthly Magazine. It was collected in his 1856 volume The Piazza Tales. Herman Melville wrote this story in 1853, two years after Moby Dick had been published and his writing career was beginning to lose its luster. Subtitled, "A Story of Wall Street," it is a seemingly simple story about a lawyer who hires a gentleman named Bartleby as a scrivener in his office. This was way back in the days before photocopy machines and scriveners performed the necessary tasks of tediously hand copying documents over and over. Bartleby was good at the copying part of his job, but when asked to proofread aloud one day he simply replied, "I prefer not to." From that moment forward, he used the phrase "I prefer not to" for every task requested of him, eventually "preferring not to" do any work whatsoever. The lawyer, who is astounded by Bartleby's attitude, tells the story in the first person. The story is rich in language and yet spare in actual action. The reader is forced to think, and think seriously about the choices we make daily. Bartleby chose to rebel and become an anti-hero. But the real protagonist of the story is the lawyer, who is drawn into Bartleby's power and grows to admire him. The conclusion is sad, but inevitable.
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"Bartleby" is one of my favorite stories; however, it is not a pretty one. It is the story of a man who, sick of what he sees as a meaningless life, surrenders to Death by consistently answering every request with, "I would prefer not to." Perhaps only Jack London's "To Build a Fire" progresses as slowly and surely to its sure and only possible conclusion.
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