Bartleby, the Scrivener By Herman Melville Summary and Analysis Falling Action

The lawyer's decision to stop badgering Bartleby remains in force only until other professional men perceive the untenable office situation, in which Bartleby refuses to perform his duties. A rumor circulates about the "strange creature" in the lawyer's office. Choosing to avoid direct confrontation, the lawyer sends for movers, ostensibly to reestablish his chambers nearer City Hall, but in reality so that he can rid himself of Bartleby. With a verbal blessing to Bartleby and an unspecific monetary enticement, the lawyer takes new quarters.


Several days later, the new occupant of the lawyer's former offices tells him that he must do something about Bartleby, for whom he, as former tenant, is responsible. The lawyer disclaims any connection with Bartleby. The next day, more complainants goad the lawyer to stop Bartleby from haunting the building, sitting on the banisters, and sleeping in the doorway. The presence of so inexplicable a vagrant affects business and may incite a mob.

Fearful lest his connection with Bartleby be mentioned in a newspaper account, the lawyer meets privately with Bartleby in an adjacent office and suggests that he seek employment. Bartleby, as immovable as ever, rejects clerking in a dry-goods store, tending bar, collecting accounts for a merchant, or serving as a traveling companion for a young gentleman. Declaring that he prefers "to be stationary," Bartleby pushes his former employer to the end of his patience. On departure, the lawyer tries a gentler tack by inviting Bartleby to his home. Again, Bartleby declines a change of residence. The lawyer runs up Wall Street toward Broadway, boards an omnibus, and leaves the scene. For several days, he leaves his affairs in Nippers' hands and drives about New York and New Jersey in a buggy.

Analysis

As in Greek tragedy, the emergence of pride is the deciding factor in how the lawyer resolves his impasse with Bartleby. The lawyer carries his fantasy of possible conclusions to such lengths that he envisions Bartleby acquiring squatter's rights to the office by remaining until his employer dies. Fearing public ridicule for his association with so abnormal a person as Bartleby, the lawyer continues to suggest ways of realigning the hermit with normal society. He considers escaping the controversy, then returns to altruism by offering his own residence as a refuge for the homeless man. In none of these approaches to the issue does the lawyer ever actually understand his employee.

Glossary

omnibus bus public transportation.

rockaway a lightweight four-wheeled carriage with solid top and undraped sides.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

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




Quiz