Herman Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" (reprinted in
Laurence Perrine and Thomas R. Arp, Literature: Structure, Sound,
and Sense, 6th ed. [Fort Worth: Harcourt, 1993] 456-84) has
characters that are very interesting to the intuitive reader. One
character in particular is the narrator who seems to change though
the story.
The narrator is an interesting man who is difficult to
completely understand. The narrator's thoughts seem unclear even to
himself. The narrator seems to have a sincere wish to help Bartleby
in whatever way he can. His sincerity, though, is questionable.
Every time the narrator tries to assist Bartleby, he seems to do it
only to gratify himself. After the narrator informs Bartleby that
the office must be vacated, he says to himself, "As I walked home
in a pensive mood, my vanity got the better of my pity."(473) The
narrator is glad to have gotten rid of Bartleby, but only it seems,
because he gave Bartleby money. This quasi-sincerity does seem to
take a turn, however, towards the end of the story. After all the
trivial attempts to help Bartleby, the narrator seems to have an
instant of true feeling for Bartleby. After moving, and being rid
of Bartleby, someone comes to him on Bartleby's behalf. The
narrator goes to the prison to check on Bartleby only because he
cares and knows that nobody else does. He knows that if he does not
check on Bartleby's well-being, no one will. This shows that he is
truly beginning to care.
This man, the narrator, is also a very weak willed man. He
seems to put up with nearly everything. He tolerates the tempers of
both Turkey and Nippers day after day. Both these men appear to be
alcoholics, as for instance, when Turkey returns from lunch he is
not able to write without blotting the paper. When the narrator
suggests that one of the scriveners work only half a day, he
refuses. And so, the narrator allows the behavior to continue.
Also, when Bartleby first starts work, the narrator says that he
placed him behind a screen so that he, "Might entirely isolate
Bartleby from my sight, though not to remove him from my
voice."(462) This wall served no real purpose other than to set
himself apart from the scriveners, that is, to make himself feel
more important. Also, when the narrator asked Bartleby to do
something, Bartleby said simply that he, "would prefer not
to."(463) The narrator allowed this behavior and offered no
discipline. Bartleby did whatever he felt like doing. Again later,
Bartleby quit working altogether. The narrator allows this and
Bartleby ends up just living in the office.
Bartleby's previous job also held some important symbolism.
Bartleby worked in the dead letter's office. Dead letters, of
course, never reach their destination; they just exist without any
real purpose, much like Bartleby did. Even the title of this story
is well thought out; Bartleby the Scrivener, A Story of Wall
Street. On Wall Street, there is no room for caring. Everyone goes
on with their business without noticing the people around them.
There is no room for individuality; the prevailing attitude seems
to be one in which those who cannot exist alone must get out.
Bartleby is an example of a person in this environment who simply
could not exist normally. So, of course, he was just cast away,
alone to survive with whatever affliction he suffered of . I also
liked the story because it was told as if the events really
occurred. Even when the narrator talks about his office, he leaves
out the numbers, as if to maintain some confidentiality. He says,
"My chambers were upstairs at No. - Wall Street."(457) This imagery
attempt of not disclosing the exact address gives the reader the
notion that the events really occurred at some specific place, when
in fact, none of it actually did.
In conclusion, I feel the narrator; in the beginning of the
story, only helps Bartleby to stop any guilt that he might be
having. Later in the story though, his need to help Bartleby
changes to wanting to help him.