Bartleby the Scrivener

Bartleby the Scrivener Character List

The Narrator

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.


The pale and forlorn scrivener, or legal copyist. Bartleby 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.


Another copyist. He is an elderly drunk, productive in the mornings but sloshed by the afternoons. When drunk, he is highly excitable. He and Nippers provide comic relief, and are caricatures rather than rounded characters.


Another copyist. He is a young man plagued, as the narrator tells us, by the two evils of ambition and indigestion. His indigestion makes him irritable and angry in the morning, but as it fades he becomes more calm. Thus Nippers is productive when Turkey is not, and vice-versa.

Ginger Nut

The twelve-year-old office boy. He is named after the cakes he brings for the men.

The new tenants and the landlord

After the narrator moves to rid himself of Bartleby, the new tenants and the landlord of the old office come to the narrator to ask him to do something about Bartleby, who refuses to leave. One of them threatens a scandal if the narrator will not help them.

The Grub-man

One of the turnkeys at the Tombs, the prison where Bartleby is sent. For a bribe, he offers to make sure Bartleby is well-fed.