In as enigmatic as Bartleby. The narrator informs the

In
the first paragraph the narrator is keen to set the scene, for his story of a former
acquaintance by the name of Bartleby. The lawyer does not mention his own name
and refers to himself as a man of elder years. In his life time he has employed
many copyists and he could recount many stories about them, but none were as
eccentric or as enigmatic as Bartleby. The narrator informs the reader that he
has no knowledge of his background and can only recount what he has witnessed.
To further accentuate the point of being reliable, he professes to be a calm
and well-respected individual amongst his profession and has significant
business. With
these words you sense that the lawyer is judicious, a pillar of society and is
trusted in high circles and this is emphasised with the name dropping. This is
a testament to his character and further proof that his telling of the tale is
most trustworthy. What is interesting is the narrator is an enigma also, apart
from the absence of his name, the information he gives is from a professional
view point only. To further his objective the narrator precedes to inform the
reader what type of employer he is. The following passage gives a very
descriptive account of his employees. easy-going
nature. He endures the unusual behaviour of his clerks, in fact the narrator
feels this is so significant that he omits very little from their characters.  Interestingly,
similar to the narrator, their real names are not specified. They lack identity
and are only named through nicknames which is linked to their appearance. This
may suggest you lose yourself when you work in the material world, like Wall
Street.     The
lawyer mentions he goes to church and makes biblical references throughout the
text, such as himself and Bartleby are the sons of Adam, he remarks of an
incident when he turned to a pillar of salt, (The punishment of Lot’s
disobedient wife, Genesis 19.26), when Bartleby refuses to examine a copy.
There is also a mention of him giving the grub man at the tombs some silver
(maybe at the time he felt like Judas). The references hint that he is a pious
individual, which adds to his credibility. However, there are examples in his narrative,
when his reliability is undermined by his continual contradiction of his
handling of the situation concerning Bartleby.

For example, in the second
encounter the lawyer has with Bartleby’s passive resistance, he is perturbed by
his manner, which defuses the situation. But he declares if it had been another
person they would have had a dishonourable dismissal and, yet he still employs
Nippers and Turk. This signifies that morals and capitalism are at odds
with each other, and with the lawyer the latter has the upper hand. There
can be no doubt that Bartleby affects the lawyer, as he alternates between
positions of confusion, sorrow and his tone echoes these sentiments. However,
his good intensions are overshadowed by his unrelenting attention with his own
self approval, and his status amongst his peers which demeans his kind-heartedness
towards Bartleby. The lawyer’s charitable inclinations are short lived, and he finds
justification not to fulfil his moral intentions. Bartleby’s behaviour has the
influence to divide the lawyer into different emotional states and this is
echoed with the dividing walls of the chambers. The
narrator is very descriptive of his premises and writes that he has a view of
imposing walls, and within his chambers glass folding doors divide the office
into two parts. An area for the copyists and another part for the lawyer.
Depending on his mood, these doors are either open or shut. When he employs
Bartleby, he is determined to have him within reach, so he is put on the
lawyer’s side of the glass door. He places Bartleby desk beside a window, but
it offers no view, and only a little bit of light due to the wall from another
building facing the window. The lawyer is pleased that he was able to obtain
yet another divide in the form of a high green folding screen, to obscure
Bartleby from his vision. With this graphic telling of the layout of his
offices, the reader gets a sense of the isolation, alienation and the lawyer’s
complete lack of awareness.This
lack of awareness is most obvious when Bartleby decides to do no more writing.
When the lawyer asks for an explanation, Bartleby replies “Do you not see the
reason for yourself” in a matter of fact tone. The narrator assumes his eyesight
is weakened from working in the dim light. But could this be mirroring the
lawyer’s own short- sightedness of Bartleby’s dilemma. Such a poignant remark, might
move another person to delve deeper, but the reader is mindful that the lawyer
observes outward appearances mostly, (the naming of his employees). This short-
sightedness extends to the office.

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The walls of glass in the
chambers separate the occupants and the lawyer is contented to get another high
screen for Bartleby, which adds to the detached atmosphere. The opening and
closing of the glass doors, is personal to the lawyer and signifies whether on
a whim, he decides to communicate with his staff. This limiting of communication
leads to miscommunication, which is prevalent throughout the narrative. The majority
of this narrative is through the words of the lawyer, so why did Melville use
this particular narrator for the story? Melville
use of the narrator’s diction is used to highlight the lawyer’s character, the
use of double negatives highlights this confused individual, which is most
evident with his dealings of Bartleby. Through his contradictions he cuts a
slightly comical figure which is ironic, if the lawyer’s stable character is
used to emphasise the unstable character of Bartleby, such as in binary
opposition. The failure of both the lawyer and Bartleby to understand each
other is seen through written and verbal expression. Words can be misconstrued,
and not reach their intended target, the meaning gets lost.  Uttering these words and
refusing to write shows the power of a word and the control it contains, this
is especially noted when everybody starts to say ‘prefer’ , in the office, and
are unaware they do so.

Similar to words, the walls
act as a barrier and have the effect of separating the occupants. The narrator
is not concerned with the walls inside and outside his office, they suit his purpose.
The walls may represent the business he has built, or the walls may embody
society.The walls (society),
obstruct the writer’s flow of ideas as they are static. In curtailing the writer’s
ambitions, upon the whims of the establishment, order is maintained. Nevertheless,
it may only take one individual to upset the status quo, and the narrator has
met such a person. Though it may seem Bartleby did not accomplish his
objective, in a strange turn of events he is being written about, which is
ironic. The narrator was affected by him so much, he is compelled to write about
Bartleby to exorcise him from his mind, maybe to ease his conscience.  The
reader is informed that Bartleby had worked as a clerk in the Dead Letter Office,
he asks the question, does it not sound similar to dead men?1
Is the narrator suggesting that Bartleby was a dead man walking? and this is a
satisfactory conclusion.  Will it deflect
from his behaviour? Withholding material changes a reader’s perspective on
events, and the narrator leaves the great reveal to the end. The dramatic
statement at the end, ‘Ah Bartleby’! ‘Ah humanity’, proposes that to the lawyer,
Bartleby demise was inevitable, and mankind had a part to play.        

 

In
conclusion it has been demonstrated the critical role of the narrator.  Through his eyes, the reader appreciates how
disconcerting and mystifying Bartleby’s behaviour is. The entire story depends
upon the reaction and responses to Bartleby, and how one man can unsettle
another, if they do not conform to social demands. There
is no conclusive evidence to suggest that the lawyer’s inertia (which mirrored
Bartleby’s) participated in the tragic events. However, this story is
subjective, and it is dependent upon the reader to come to their own verdict. Melville
may have used the narrator as an extreme version, to highlight mankind’s
fallibility, or maybe he was taunting the institutions of society, like Wall Street.

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