Bartleby the Scrivener

Invaded Peace: Setting and Control in Melville’s “Bartleby” College

In Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” the title character becomes an obstinate fixture in the life of the unnamed narrator. Throughout the short story, readers are able to observe the depth of Bartleby’s intrusion through the personal vernacular the narrator uses when speaking of his surroundings. Importantly, before employing Bartleby, the narrator was able to manage the occurrences in the space he occupies. Power dynamics within the law office are transgressed as the scrivener rejects boundaries and expectations. Additionally, symbols such as screens, doors, locks, and keys emphasize the value of selective solitude by their consistent failure to work in the narrator’s favour. Another concept that “Bartleby” touches upon is the effects of proximity on relationships in the story. The description of setting in the narrative ultimately allows the theme of control to develop through narrower spatial motifs like privacy. As the narrator assesses his environment, Melville communicates what scholar William Vaughn calls the otherwise untellable “already thereness” of Bartleby (537). In this essay, I will analyze the implications of setting in the short story, particularly in relation to Bartleby, while considering the ideas...

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