Bartleby the Scrivener

Bartleby the Scrivener Summary and Analysis of Pages 25-38

Third Section (pp. 25-38)


The narrator summons Bartleby. When questioned about his past, Bartleby simply replies that he would prefer not to answer. The narrator tries to convince Bartleby to take up some of the normal duties around the office. When he says he would prefer not to, Nippers bursts into the room, furious. The narrator tells Nippers that he would prefer for Nippers to leave. The narrator realizes that of late, he has been using the word "prefer" constantly. Turkey comes in, suggesting that Bartleby take to drinking to improve his moods, so that he can work. Turkey is using the word "prefer" in nearly every sentence, and the narrator worries that Bartleby's presence is somehow contaminating them. But he does not dismiss Bartleby just then.

The next day, Bartleby stops copying altogether. The narrator realizes that working by the dim light of the window (which faces a wall) has temporarily damaged Bartleby's eyes. But even though he cannot copy, he refuses to do other work. Some days later, Bartleby announces to the narrator that he has given up copying. Even if his eyes should get better, he will copy nothing. Time passes, and Bartleby is still a fixture around the office. Finally, the narrator dismisses him, giving him six days to go. But the six days pass, and Bartleby is still there. He gives Bartleby some money, telling him firmly but gently that he must go. His speech assumes that Bartleby will leave; he asks Bartleby to lock up on his way out. On his way home that night, the narrator congratulates himself on his handling of the situation. But the next morning, his anxiety increases as he nears work. At the corner of Broadway and Canal Street, he hears men betting money on something, and to his ears it seems the whole city is thinking of Bartleby. When the narrator arrives at the office, at first it seems that Bartleby is gone. But he's there, and he tells the narrator to wait before entering. The narrator goes on a walk, and when he returns, he confronts Bartleby. But Bartleby is both passive and unyielding, as always. At first, the narrator's temper rises, but he remembers a murder that took place in a Wall Street office, when two colleagues lost control of themselves, and he calms himself. Eventually, he reconciles himself to Bartleby's presence. He decides to let Bartleby stay.

But professional friends who come to the office find the arrangement bizarre. The narrator worries that his reputation is being damaged by the bizarre man who stays at his office, so he suggests again that Bartleby should leave. Bartleby will not. So the narrator moves his office. On the final moving day, the narrator is slightly choked up as he leaves Bartleby.


The descriptions of Bartleby continue the parallels between the scrivener and a phantom. When summoned, Bartleby "noiselessly slid into view" (25), as a ghost does. One of his replies is described as "cadaverous" (26). He has come to haunt the narrator, as a double. They share the same office space, and the narrator cannot seem to be rid of him.

The office space of the modern business world undergoes some interesting conceptualizations in this section. At first, the narrator calls our attention to the desolateness of the office and of Wall Street: "Of a Sunday, Wall Street is deserted as Petra; and every night of every day it is an emptiness" (23). There are parallels between Bartleby's experience of the workplace at night and his experience of the workplace in general share a similarity: he sees something that no one else sees. The desolation of Wall Street is part of Bartleby's essential perception of it. The literal desolation at night is paralleled by the spiritual desolation during the day. Bartleby sees both, and through him the narrator gets some sense of them.

The narrator also makes an interesting move by describing the office as a site of savagery. He cites the example of a recent Wall Street murder, and explains why an office can be conducive to otherwise unthinkable acts: "Often it had occurred to me in my ponderings upon the subject, that had that altercation taken place in the public street, or at a private residence, it would not have terminated as it did. It was the circumstance of being alone in a solitary office, up stairs, of a building entirely unhallowed by humanizing domestic associations . . ." (33-34). The office, a site of modern economic systems and progress, becomes a space like the jungle island in The Lord of the Flies. Something about the space is dehumanizing, and makes murder possible.

Finally, the narrator's resolve to help Bartleby weakens, and it's because of his work. Apparently, the modern office also makes possible the neglect of another human being. The narrator is certainly not an exception among humans for his choices: he puts up with more from Bartleby than anyone else does. But in the end, he makes choices that amount to abandonment of Bartleby. If his action is something any human would do, then the abandonment of Bartleby is a comment on humanity.