Bartleby- The Scrivener

In Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener”, the author uses several themes to
convey his ideas. The three most important themes are alienation, man’s desire to have a
free conscience, and man’s desire to avoid conflict. Melville uses the actions of an
eccentric scrivener named Bartleby, and the responses of his cohorts, to show these
underlying themes to the reader.

The first theme, alienation, is displayed best by Bartleby’s actions. He has a divider
put up so that the other scriveners cannot see him, while all of them have desks out in the
open so they are full view of each other, as well as the narrator. This caused discourse
with all of the others in the office. This is proven when Turkey exclaims, “ I think I’ll just
step behind his screen and black his eyes for him.”(p.2411) The other scriveners also felt
alienated by the actions of the narrator. His lack of resolve when dealing with Bartleby
angered them because they knew that if they would have taken the same actions, they
would have been dismissed much more rapidly. The narrator admits to this when he said,
“ With any other man I should have flown outright into a dreadful passion, scorned all
further words, and thrust him ignominiously from my presence.” (2409)

The next theme is man’s desire to avoid conflict. The narrator avoids conflict on
several occasions. The first time Bartleby refused to proofread a paper, the narrator simply
had someone else do it instead of confronting him and resolving the issue right then. By
ignoring the problem, he left the door open for more disobedience. As expected, Bartleby
continued to refuse to proofread and the narrator eventually gave up on asking him to do it.

The narrator went to great lengths to avoid a confrontation. When Bartleby refused to
leave the office after being fired, the narrator chose to move his office to a different
location instead of removing the eccentric man by force. The narrator informs the reader
of this idea when he says, “ No more then. Since he will not quit me, I must quit him. I
will change my offices.” (2422) By doing so, the narrator displays just how far man is
sometimes willing to go to avoid conflict.

The final theme is man’s desire to have a free conscience. Melville reveals this
theme through the actions of the narrator as well as the new tenants of the office. The
narrator attempts to appease his conscience by giving Bartleby money above his wages
when he fired him. The new tenants of the office try to put the responsibility of dealing
with Bartleby back on the narrator, but they are denied and eventually have the man
removed from the premises by law officers.

Herman Melville uses the actions and reactions of the characters in “Bartleby the

Scrivener” to disclose three important themes, alienation, man’s desire to avoid conflict,
and man’s desire to keep a free conscience. In doing so, he gives us an inside look into the
workings of the human mind. The reader is left with the impression that all people,
including lawyers, have compassion for other humans, and at some point, that compassion
will show through

Biblio- Heath Anthology of American Lit., Third Edition, Vol I , Paul Lauter Ed.