What do we learn about the narrator in the first few paragraphs?

It is necessary to know the narrator because we will be told the story through his eyes. That is why, Melville gives us a lot of information to know the way the narrator thinks and experience the story. He is an unambitious elderly man who works as a lawyer but prefers not to take part in a trial but rather living with no worries. He has a business of his own and in the beginning only two clerks. He starts telling the story of Bartleby, who was one of his employees, because he was quite a strange man that shocked him. In order to tell the story he begins explaining who their clerks are.

What does his language tell us about him?

His language show us that he is a well-educated man and use a formal language in order to show respect.

Are there any contradictions involved in being an “unambitious lawyer”?

Yes, on the one hand he describes himself as someone without any ambitious goals and on the other hand he admires John Jacob Astor who was an entrepreneur that built an empire.

Describe Turkey, Nippers and Ginger Nut.

All of them were the narrator’s employees before Bartleby arrives. The names we are given are not their real names but a nickname that reflects their respective characters. Turkey and Nippers are both copyists that change their way of behaving throughout the day. Turkey is pursy, short and around the age of the narrator. Also he never dresses correctly because he is apparently incapable of wearing a good hat and a good coat at the same time that is the reason the narrator thinks he doesn’t give an appropriate image for the job. He was incredibly productive during the morning but after midday he became much clumsier, leaving blots while working. Nippers, on the contrary, improves along the day. He is a well-dressed young man, about 25 years old and more ambitious than his employer. If Turkey changes because of food, Nippers changes because of drinking beer. Finally, Ginger Nut is a 12-years-old teenager that was sent by his father to study Law. However, he is only working as the office-boy, cleaning and bringing food to the copyists. In fact his nickname comes from the cake he brings to the workers.

What is the purpose of introducing them first?

The main purpose is to set the context in which the story will take place. This will set a contrast between the familiar environment and the peculiar figure that Bartleby is. Later

on, he cannot describe Bartleby as well as the other people in his story, helping to create the mystery around him.

How does the narrator’s response to them (and his forbearance with their faults) shape the reader’s reactions to what follows?

We can see that he is permissive with his clerks actions and it is consistent with what follows.

What part do the setting and the subtitle (“A Story of Wall Street”) play in the story?

First, it helps us to place ourselves in a specific place. In this case, this place also has a symbolic meaning, giving special importance to walls and the lack of freedom. Additionally, Wall Street is a place in which the environment is totally dehumanized and unnatural, causing a depressing feeling to the reader.

Why does the narrator so frequently mentions walls, screens, windows and views? As we have said in the previous question, this has to do with the lack of freedom that the writer wants us to feel. In the story, the windows haven’t any view, but instead, they only let the protagonist see a brick wall. As well, Bartleby is hidden behind a screen that increases the feeling of isolation.

Why does Bartleby stare out the window or lurk behind a screen? It could be a symptom of depression and loneliness.

In what ways does the narrator characterization of him as a “fixture” or “ the last column of a ruined temple” help the reader to see him as a structural object, piece of furniture or architecture rather than as a human being?

The way he describes him make us think of him as a piece of furniture because he is only there, just existing without any real movement or special reaction besides “I would prefer not to” for everything he is asked to do.

In what way does this transformation into objects cost the narrator to see himself as “a pillar of salt”?

Bartleby leaves him astonished, without knowing how to react to his refusal to do what he’s told to. The fact that his clerks are present when he refuses to obey increases this feeling. He feels impotence because he perceives Bartleby as someone fragile.

What kind of person is Bartleby?

He is mysterious, useless, somewhat fragile, stubborn but without wanting to cause any trouble and absolutely passive.

Why might he say “I would prefer not to” instead of “I will not”?

He doesn’t like being commanded to do anything. However, neither he wants to get in trouble with his boss.

What kinds of appeals does the narrator make to Bartleby, and how does Bartleby deflect them?

He asks for simple tasks that would not bother any other copyist. Once he realizes that he is not willing to obey, he uses the tasks he ask him to do as a way of testing Bartleby. The narrator is quite sympathetic and tries to facilitate Bartleby’s life, allowing him to do (or not to) things that he wouldn’t allow his other clerks to do (or not to). With this actions, he is trying to show his good intentions. Bartleby, however always replies without any emotions “I would prefer not to”. He is taking advantage of the narrator’s good intentions.

As the story progresses, the narrator’s views about Bartleby undergo several transformations and Bartleby begins to have a kind of power over him. How does Bartleby’s influence over the office manifest itself? Discuss why and how this occurs.

At first, Bartley was diligent, copying everything he was asked to copy. But when he starts to refuse to do things, the narrator starts to get frustrated. However he doesn’t have a convincing response and doesn’t fire him because he is a good copyist, having curiosity to know who Bartleby is and why doesn’t he want to do the tasks he ask him to do. He starts giving in every time Bartleby doesn’t want to do anything and ends up totally under Bartleby’s influence, powerless to react as a boss should. Finally, he realizes that he is scared of Bartleby and decides to move office and leave Bartleby behind.

At one point when the narrator asks Bartleby why he will not write, Bartleby responds “do you not see the reason for yourself”. What is it that the narrator is supposed to see, and what does he fail to see? Why is Bartleby said to be the one with weak eyesight? In what ways do the ideas of seeing, vision and understanding work in this story?

Since Bartleby’s story reflects feelings from the author, this story tells us how, copying easy texts only to make money leads to depression. This is what the narrator fails to see in Bartleby. Instead, he thinks he is almost blind after writing in the dim light. Vision is always obstructed by walls or poor light.

As a lawyer the narrator might be expected to use logic to rid himself of Bartleby. Does he? How successful is his attempt?

No, he doesn’t. He asks him to leave which he doesn’t do and instead of kicking him out, he reluctantly accept it having no reaction at all other than being kind to Bartleby again. Even when he finds Bartleby living in his office, he doesn’t tell him off.

What other kinds of appeals does he use, and how successful are they?

He ends up offering him money to leave but as he doesn’t go away he finally moves office leaving Bartleby behind.

Explain the allusions and the contradictory ideas that the choice between mercy and justice represent. What does Bartleby owe to society and what does society owe to him in return? To what extent must this social contract be “amended” to allow for what the narrator sees as the Christian tenets of mercy and brotherhood?

 The narrator thinks that it is fair to call the police because the man doesn’t do anything in exchange for the money he earns and also doesn’t leave. In contrast, what would be merciful is to allow his eccentricities no matter what he does. Also, he offers money to Bartleby as well as the possibility to write him a letter whenever he needs help. Bartleby doesn’t really give anything to society. Even though he doesn’t mean any harm he really causes a lot of trouble: he occupies an office and ends up in jail.

In the last sections of the roll story, the “real law” enters the eccentric law office of the narrator-lawyers unmoved by Bartleby’s strangeness move in, the police are summoned, and Bartleby is taken to the Tombs. Does the narrator prove himself a true lawyer at the end?

Yes, at the end the narrator explains the multiple efforts that the lawyer does to help Bartleby while he is on prison. Furthermore, he helps the occupants that take the office building to get rid of Bartleby. Then, the lawyer also helps to look for a new office for Bartleby showing his great willingness that he has to him and the new tenants. The lawyer always wants to show and show his esteem to Bartleby. For that reason, when Bartleby is taken to the tombs, the lawyer provides a detailed description of Bartleby in an attempt to inform the officer about Bartleby’s issue while he is also trying to give Bartleby the best treatment possible while in confinement. Also, the lawyer pays from his own money to a man in prison to look after Bartleby’s meals.

Why does Bartleby say, “I know you, and I want nothing to say to you” when the narrator visits him in prison? Shouldn’t he be grateful that the narrator is taking an interest in what happens to him?

Bartleby tells him that he doesn’t want to talk to him because he blames the narrator of his unfortunate destiny. He fells the narrator is responsible for his current loneliness, he is the one who let other men take the building where he wanted to stay. Bartleby is not grateful for the interest that the narrator shows on him because he thinks he should have shown it before, when he needed his help.

Does the Dead Letter office really explain Bartleby’s actions? Or is it simply a device so that the narrator can close the incident in a sentimental, picturesque manner?

Surely yes, at least in our opinion because the unhappy employment of Dead Letters affected a lot in his own attitude, these depressing actions of making Dead Letters has made himself depressed too. Also, Bartleby doesn’t like this employment at all.

The narrator thinks that this stuff affects his way of being too. This fact is reflected in the ideas and expressions that the narrator has about Bartleby. Bartleby mental state reaches this point due to the constant exposure to these letters which have no destination or receiver. But, these explanations have no purpose, no final destination, because this idea is eventually discarded and forgotten. The objective of these purposes is only to know the why of his strange and apathetic manners.

Critical opinion is divided about the narrator: one side sees him as an appealing eccentric who tries but fails to save a man who doomed himself; another sees him as a man who, despite his genial manner, is so devoted to the values of Wall Street that he cannot rise to the injunction of loving his neighbor as himself. What’s your opinion?

We think that the narrator cares a lot about what happens to Bartleby. He does all that he can to help this man – he offers him money after it becomes clear that Bartleby will be working for him no longer, he pays a man in the prison to look after him, and even when Bartleby is physically out of the narrator’s life, the narrator still makes an effort to take care of him. We also believe that most other men on Wall Street would have Bartleby fired on the spot for his passive disobedience – the narrator, however, is simply baffled by his new employee and feels pity for him. All evidence, for us, points to the benevolent nature of the narrator and the rarity of such compassion in the working world.

In what ways does this set of images symbolically reinforces the story’s themes?

The food imagery helps the narrator to give a close characterization of many of the personalities involved in the story. We have many examples to talk about, as Turkey, called like that to show the readers that he likes to eat a lot at all times, or as Nippers and his dyspepsia, which could be caused by his drinking problem. We can also mention Ginger Nut, whose name is all composed by food words. He is named this way, Nut, because he is a bit stupid and his knowledge about the law could fit inside a nutshell, as we are told in the text. We can relate his name Ginger to the fact that Bartleby only eats ginger pie and the boy is the responsible to buy this. We can finally find an antithesis in the text because Bartleby only eats ginger pie, which is really savory, while the lawyer is apathetic.