Bartleby the Scrivener

Sight but No Vision College

Never has there been a character quite so open to interpretation than that of Bartleby in Herman Melville’s short story Bartleby, the Scrivener. In the position of the reader, it is simple to blame Bartleby for an initial lack of understanding after reading the story, though the reader should not be encouraged to take the easy way out. While it appears that Bartleby is blind as to his surroundings and colleagues, in reality his colleagues are the ones blind towards Bartleby’s actions, as well as towards the capitalist system that they are working for.

The lawyer’s positioning of Bartleby’s desk in his office is an example of his blindness towards his capitalist desire for control, and later offers him a convenient explanation that he uses to excuse Bartleby’s actions. In the lawyer’s description of the layout, the text reads “I procured a high green folding screen, which might entirely isolate Bartleby from my sight, though not remove him from my voice. And thus … privacy and society were conjoined” (Norton, 1108). Professor and literary critic Sanford Pinsker takes on the short story in his article “Bartleby, the Scrivener”: Language as Wall, and describes the lawyer’s thinking here: “Removed from sight – the purpose, after...

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