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Bartleby, the Villain in Bartleby, the Scrivener

Bartleby, the Villian in Bartleby, the Scrivener

Herman Melville’s short story, “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” poses many moral questions, but refuses to answer them nicely and neatly. Unfortunately, Melville’s ambiguities have lead to some unusual interpretations concerning the ethics of the unnamed lawyer who narrates the story. While it may seem perfectly obvious to most of us that he goes out of his way to be sensitive to Bartleby’s needs, beginning with the narrator’s allowing him to refrain from certain duties, to refraining from all his duties, to letting him make his office his lodgings, to offering him beyond what he owes Bartleby and securing him another position, to even inviting him to live with him in the lawyer’s own home. As Harold Schechter puts it, the narrator is meant “to be a model of terrestrial morality” (359). And, as Donald H. Craver and Patricia R. Plante explain,

The most widely accepted contemporary interpretations

of “Bartleby” have centered upon the theme of the

brotherhood of man or a variation thereof. Through

Bartleby’s passive resistance against all that the

methodical law office serves, the unnamed narrator is

gradually turned away from his prudent, and safe, and

uncommitted position until he stands scorched by the

blazing revelation that we are, all of us, at once

interdependent and forlorn (132).

Yet still there are critics who maintain the lawyer has no set of ethics at all–that everything he does is out of self-interest and is immoral.

One of the critics who feels this way is Thomas Pribek. Pri…

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…rator who fails at saving the unsalvageable, because he at least tried.

Works Cited

Craver, Donald H., and Patricia R. Plante. “Bartleby or, the Ambiguities.”Studies in Short Fiction 20.2-3 (Spring-Summer 1983): 132-136.

Melville, Herman. “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street.” Anthology of America Literature: Volume I: Colonial through Romantic. Ed. George McMichael. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1993. 1301-1326.

Mitchell, Thomas R. “Dead Letters and Dead Men: Narrative Purpose in ‘Bartleby, the Scrivener.'” Studies in Short Fiction 27.3 (Summer 1990): 329-338.

Pribek, Thomas. “The ‘Safe’ Man of Wall Street: Characterizing Melville’s Lawyer.” Studies in Short Fiction 23.2 (Spring 1986): 191-195.

Schechter, Harold. “Bartleby the Chronometer” Studies in Short Fiction 19.4 (Fall 1982): 359-366.

Comparing Crime and Punishment and The Bible

The use of doubles is prevalent in the writing of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. He uses this device to force comparison and discernment between characters and modes of behavior. In Crime and Punishment, the character Svidrigaylov serves as a dark double to Raskolnikov. While both are tainted by the sin of their crimes, the latter finds redemption, while the former find only despair and suicide. This pair of criminals closely parallels another famous set of doubles: the apostles Peter and Judas. Although each member of these two pairs commits the same crime as his double, only one finds redemption. Dostoyevsky’s text and the gospel accounts indicate that humility and self-effacement are the key elements of salvation.

The first pair for this discussion is Peter and Judas, about whom is written have the least information and who are therefore the easier pair to analyze. First, it is important to note that the gospels were written by authors sympathetic to Peter and not to Judas, so Judas should be given the benefit of the doubt in some cases. Peter and Judas were both given positions of authority among the apostles. Peter was called to be the spokesman and Judas carried the purse. Judas chose to betray Jesus. We are unsure what his reason was, although Luke tells us that “Satan entered into Judas.” 1 Judas may have been acting out of self-preservation if he suspected that the end was near for Jesus anyway. Quite possibly, Judas agreed with Caiaphas and felt that it was better “that one man should die for all the people.” 2 It is ironic, and a good example of Johannine humor, how right Caiaphas was ? one man died, Christ “by whom we are set free.” 3 Judas received 30 silver coins from the chief priests in payment for his …

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…be last.

Works Cited

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. New York: W W Norton and Company, 1989.

The Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version 1611, The World Publishing Co., Cleveland.


1. Luke 22:3

2. John 18:14

3. Colossians 1:14

4. Mark 14:21

5. Matthew 26:25

6. Matthew 27:3-5

7. Hebrews 7:26

8. Hebrews 7:27

9. Hebrews 7:28

10. Luke 22:31-32

11. Luke 22:33

12. Matthew 26:38

13. Matthew 26:41

14. Mark 14:71

15. Luke 22:61-62

16. John 21:7

17. John 21:15-17

18. Romans 5:12

19. Romans 5:18

20. Crime and Punishment p. 238

21. ibid. 238

22. ibid. 237

23. Philippians 2:8

24. Philippians 2:9

25. Luke 24:26

26. Crime and Punishment p.432

27. Crime and Punishment p. 348

28. ibid. 348

29. ibid. 354

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