Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener.” – Literature Essay
No real hero is presented to the reader in Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener.” The narrator of the story seems to be an ordinary man. He does not exhibit any noteworthy features that would deem him a hero. He is a
lawyer, an occupation that sometimes requires someone to be a hero but he is “one of those unambitious lawyers who never addresses a jury, or in any way draws down public applause.” He is an “eminently safe man.” From these descriptions we can see that he does not seem to possess the “hero gene.” From the start of the novel, we see the narrator talk about this man Bartleby. He describes Bartleby as “one of those beings of whom nothing is ascertainable.” There is an aura of mystery surrounding this Bartleby and one can’t help but anticipate hearing more about him. It is this kind of building up that makes the reader think that maybe Bartleby might be some sort of hero, a man among men. We also see the description of the lawyer’s other scriveners. They are an odd bunch that display no real characteristics of being heroes. The lawyer is a person whose “profound conviction is that the easiest way of life is the best” and the only reason he keeps his scriveners is because it would be too difficult to hire a new bunch. From the time that the lawyer hires Bartleby, the narrator paints a picture of Bartleby as a mysterious man. There seems to be a story behind all this and we are waiting for it to unfold. The fact that Bartleby’s only comments are “I would prefer not to” only add an air mystery around him. Who is this Bartleby and what is his story? What is he hiding and what is he going to do? This initially makes him look like he might be a hero and even the narrator plays up Bartleby as some mysterious stranger. As we get further and further into the novel, the same old comments from Bartleby start to wear thin. He never does anything. Sure he is a hard worker at the beginning but he ends up quitting his job altogether and doesn’t even seem to respect the lawyer. It is like watching a balloon slowly run out of air. It was exciting watching and waiting what this Bartleby would do but the fact is that he never does anything and there is nothing heroic about that. In fact, it seems to be quite pathetic. He seems to be nothing more than a vagrant who does not care about the people who are trying to help him out. The lawyer tries his best to get some reaction out of Bartleby but nothing works. This is commendable but it is not heroic. Just a strange story about a strange man.