“I prefer not to,” “I prefer not to,” tells the reader about Bartleby isolating himself. The phrase shows his lack of involvement, another form of isolation. The narrator tells the reader exactly what he did to Bartleby, very vividly, as shown below. In the novella, the author tells the reader, down to the smallest detail, what he did to Bartleby to isolate him from the world. He tells us in this passage, “I placed his desk close up to a small side window in that part of the room, a window which originally had afforded a lateral view of certain grimy backyards, and bricks, but which, owning to insubsequent erections, commanded at present, no view at all, though it gave some light. Within three feet of the panes was a wall, and the light came down from far above between two lofty buildings, as from a very small opening in a dome. Still further to satisfactory arrangement, I procured a green folding screen, which might entirely isolate Bartleby from my sight, though, not remove him from my voice.” The quotation describes how the narrator secludes Bartleby from society. Even his window, usually a form of escape, results in Bartleby being trapped behind another wall, thus reinforcing his total isolation. The irony lies in the fact that the narrator, while trying to isolate Bartleby, becomes affected by it, so much so that he appears almost human. Instead of dismissing him on the spot for refusing to copy, proofread or leave the premises, he tries to find other employment for him, and even considers inviting him to live in his residence as his guest. The narrator develops before our eyes into a caring person, very different from the cold, unsympathetic person at the beginning of the story. “To befriend Bartleby, to humor him in his strange willfulness, will cost me little or nothing, while I lay up in my soul what will eventually prove a sweet morsel for my conscience.” The narrator would normally befriend Bartleby or any other “sucker,” but Bartleby has given him a conscience. The narrator has realized that a common blemish in a person does not determine the person. In the beginning of the novella, the narrator only cared about his work, but now he realizes that people have a life outside of work, except Bartleby.
Bartleby of Bartleby the Scrivener
Bartleby of Bartleby the Scrivener
Herman Melville’s short story “Bartleby the Scrivener” introduces many interesting characters with many different personalities to us. However, out of Ginger Nut, Turkey, Nippers, and the Old Man who narrates the story, the one that is most mysterious to us is Bartleby. Bartleby is a scrivener, which, in simple terms, is a human version of a modern day copy machine. He does his job extremely well, hardly ever stopping his work and getting things done quickly and efficiently. However, he is a man of few words. In fact, he is a man of one phrase: “I would prefer not to.” He says this in response to anything that is requested of him other than to copy documents. He actually outright refuses to do anything else that his boss (the narrator) asks him to do. This is the first step in confusing the reader about Bartleby. Melville, however, never seems to offer an answer to this mystery. Another interesting thing that I noticed was that Bartleby never said “I will not.”, but “I prefer not.” This would indicate that the person he is talking to has an option as to choosing what Bartleby will or won’t do, but it is said in such a way that it manages to confuse the narrators feelings, and causes him, for a long period of time, to simply accept the statement as a “no”. This appears to me as a weakness of the narrator as a business owner, but at the same time makes me wonder what is Bartleby’s purpose for responding in such a way. Another interesting characteristic of Bartleby is his living habits, which we find out about later in the story. He apparently lives at the office (originally unbeknownst to the narrator). He sleeps, washes, and works in the same place. What makes this even more interesting is that he refuses (or states that he would “prefer not”) to change his living arrangements. When the narrator moves his business, and Bartleby refuses to vacate the premises after the new tenant arrives, the narrator is taken to be responsible for Bartleby, simply because he is the only person who is even close to knowing him. After a lengthy process that ends with Bartleby in prison, who seemingly regards the narrator as the reason for his being there, the story quickly closes with the demise and death of Bartleby, and the strange introduction of the “grub man” (who seems as though he has some deeper importance in the story which I cannot place).