Bartleby, the Scrivener By Herman Melville Summary and Analysis Climax

At the end of the six-day period, Bartleby has made no move to supply himself with a new job or lodgings. The lawyer therefore thrusts on him twelve dollars in back wages plus a twenty-dollar gift, then makes a parting speech and withdraws. The next day, Bartleby is still there; the lawyer, pressed to explain the man's behavior, tries to force him into debate on the issue, but receives only silence in response. Pushed to the edge of violence, the lawyer recalls a biblical injunction to love other people.


Wrestling with the urge to strike out in anger, the lawyer leaves the office without addressing Bartleby further. After doing some preliminary reading on willful behavior and necessity, the lawyer comes to think of Bartleby as a burden imposed by God. He concludes that he will allow Bartleby to stay on without challenge.

Analysis

Melville utilizes details to reveal the narrator's preoccupation with his dilemma. Congratulating himself on his handling of the unsettling office situation, the lawyer passes a pair of pedestrians debating an election and, so self-absorbed is he in his own affairs, he assumes they are discussing his problem with Bartleby. Ups and downs of inner debate impel him now toward physical confrontation, then to an intellectual process, which concludes that his conflict with Bartleby was predetermined by God. The acceptance of his employee's bizarre behavior is one choice which requires no definitive judgment, no overt action.

In terms of resolution, the contrast between the protagonist and antagonist proves ironic. At this point in the clash of wills, Bartleby has, in effect, elected death rather than continue functioning in his role as scrivener. Willing himself to shrivel both emotionally and physically, he seems set on a course of action through passive resistance or non-action. A far cry from the vacillating lawyer, Bartleby gives the impression that he knows what he must do and is willing to suffer the consequences.

Glossary

Adams and . . . Colt John C. Colt killed Samuel Adams, a printer, then shipped his corpse to New Orleans in a crate.

A new commandment give I unto you, that ye love one another the words of Christ found in John 13:34. Christ's revolutionary statement of purpose replaced the Ten Commandments of Moses with only two injunctions: to love God and to love other human beings.

Edwards on the Will Calvinistic opinions of Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) about human will.

Priestley on Necessity from the 25-volume theological writings of Joséph Priestley (1733-1804), English scientist and clergyman.

Providence figuratively, God.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

After three days on the job, Bartleby responds to his employer's work direction by saying,




Quiz