Bartleby the Scrivener

How are Bartleby and the narrator different?

How are Bartleby and the narrator different?

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The narrator is an elderly man, and an "eminently safe" one. He makes his living helping rich men deal with their legal documents, and he is convinced that the easiest path is always the best one. Bartleby exerts a strange power over him: the narrator is simultaneously repulsed and moved to pity, and he is powerless to compel Bartleby to do anything. Through Bartleby, the narrator sees his world and the human condition in a new and unsettling way.

Bartleby is a pale and forlorn scrivener, or legal copyist. He is incredibly passive, quiet, never becoming angry. But he is also unyielding. Life itself is pointless to him, and he cannot pretend enthusiasm for it. His trademark sentence, "I would prefer not to," marks his continuing disengagement from the world. Each time Bartleby utters it, he is refusing not only a task, but one of the rituals that make up a normal life. He ends by "preferring not to" eat, which kills him.