Bartleby the Scrivener

Walled in Street

In Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” the setting contributes to the tone, the style, the theme and particularly the characterization of Bartleby, a scrivener working for the narrator. The parallelism between the setting and the attributes of Bartleby is suggested in the description of the prison yard, where Bartleby is confined. When Bartleby is imprisoned for vagrancy, the narrator visits him and is directed towards the yard. The description of the yard reflects both Bartleby’s desolate mental and social states as well as his passive resistance against the narrator and what he signifies.

The story is about Bartleby’s encounter with the narrator, his employee. The narrator chooses to tolerate Bartleby’s preferences until they interfere with the narrator’s work; the narrator is then forced to dismiss Bartleby and relocate his office. This dismissal later results in Bartleby being arrested as a vagrant and initiates the scene in the prison yard, where the narrator goes to visit him.

Bartleby’s isolation and desolate mental state is illustrated by the author’s depiction of the prison. The yard of the prison is surrounded by walls of “amazing thickness, keeping off all sounds behind them,” and the “masonry weighted upon...

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