How did the author handle the problem of Bartleby’s disobedience?


What measures did the author take to get rid of Bartleby when the later repeatedly disobeyed his order?

Bartleby.Answer: Bartleby the Scrivener, is a short story, in which the author handles the problem of Bartleby’s disobedience. The problem with Bartleby began when he repeatedly replied “I would prefer not to” to calls for his work. Many considerations enabled the author to reconcile himself to Bartleby. However, he took various measures to get rid of Bartleby when the latter repeatedly disobeyed his order. This handling of the problem by the author is significant in the sense that it reveals the themes like responsibility, compassion, charity and selfishness.

Bartleby the Scrivener was found to be very calm, sedate, and obedient. The author was glad engage a sober man like Bartleby as one of the copyists, because he thought that he would have a good, sobering influence on his two other copyists. Immediately after joining the author’s service, he did an extraordinary amount of work for the first two days. But from the very third day he began to behave in a very strange manner. The author called him to complete a small affair he had in hand to examine a small paper with him. Quite surprisingly Bartleby replied “I would prefer not to”. The author was quite unsettled by this utterly unexpected answer. He rose in high excitement, and crossing the room with a stride, said, “What do you mean?” The author felt like violently reacting to this answer but he restrained himself noticing something unusual in the countenance of Bartleby. He observed that Bartleby’s face was leanly composed, his grey eyes dimly calm. There was not a wrinkle of agitation. There was not the least uneasiness, anger, impatience or impertinence in his manner. In a word, there was not anything ordinary about him,

“Not a wrinkle of agitation, anger, impatience or impertinence in his manner; in other words, had there been anything ordinarily human about him, doubtless I should have violently dismissed him from the premises.

Some days later, Bartleby concluded four lengthy documents, quadruplicates of a week’s testimony taken before the high court of chancery. It was necessary to examine them, for it was an important suit. The author called Turkey, Nippers, Ginger Nut and Bartleby. Bartleby replied “I would prefer not to” for the second time. The author was astounded by the reply but he did not fly into a rage because there was again something in Bartleby which not only disarmed him, but touched and disconcerted him.


With any other man the author should have flown outright into a dreadful passion, scorned all further words, and thrust him ignominiously from his presence. But there was something in Bartleby that not only strangely disarmed him, but in wonderful manner, touched and disconcerted him.

The author reasoned with him, but he gave the same answer. The author asked Turkey, Ginger Nut and Nippers whether he was right in his opinion or not. They all agreed that Bartleby committed an offence by his refusal to disobey the author.

The author took some measures to handle Bartleby’s disobedience. Bartleby gave up writing ultimately. The author then gave him six days’ notice telling him that within that time he must unconditionally leave the office. The author thought that giving him some money over and above what is due to him might induce him to leave the place. One day he told him that he (the author) owed him twelve dollars, but offered him thirty-two, telling him that the odd twenty dollars was his, and requested him to take it. Bartleby made no motion. The author left the money under weight on the table, instructing him to leave the key under the mat, and bade him goodbye. To all these, Bartleby did not show any reaction, he kept standing in the middle of the room like a ruined temple. The author this time felt some self-satisfaction in the measure he took for evicting Bartleby. He felt so much proud of the masterly management in getting rid of Bartleby. He contentedly uttered the words,

“I could not but highly plume myself on my masterly management in getting rid of Bartleby.”

But to his utter surprise, Bartleby, even after six days, was still found in his room. The author softly told him to vacate that day, offered him money and said he was sorry for him, and left some money on the table. The next morning Bartleby was still found in his room. The author asked him in an angry mood whether lie would quit or not, Bartleby answered, “I would prefer not to quit you” the author was in rage and felt like killing him, but remembered one commandment of the Bible,

“A new commandment give I unto you that ye love one another”, and refrained from doing any violence. He accepted it as his fate. But his professional colleagues’ uncharitable remarks about Bartleby prejudiced him. He decided to get rid of that “intolerable incubus” (Bartleby) anyhow. He decided to move his chamber. He did move his chamber but Bartleby still haunted the old place. The landlord and the new tenants of the old place handed Bartleby over to the police who put him to The Tombs, a prison for the vagrants. Even there the author visited Bartleby, but Bartleby died there.

Some considerations enabled the author to reconcile himself to Bartleby. He was annoyed by Bartleby’s disobedience but he gradually reconciled himself to the situation. He considered Bartleby’s steadiness, his freedom from all dissipation, his incessant industry, his great stillness, his unalterable demeanour, under all circumstances. All these qualities made him a valuable possession. Out of this, one prime thing was there that, “he was always there”. The author found out that Bartleby never left his place in the room and lived on ginger nuts and never took any dinner. He felt his most valuable papers perfectly safe in his hands. As the days passed on, the author indulged in philosophical meandering about Bartleby and considerably reconciled to him.

The author’s handling of the situation reveals the themes of compassion and charity. He has been responsible and compassionate to Eartleby despite his repeated disobedience. He seems to have failed in his duty of helping Bartleby. He in fact goes to greater lengths than most people would in his efforts to help Bartleby.

The handling of the problem somehow reveals the author’s charity, born out of the materialism and consumerism. He thinks of charitable actions in terms of cost and returns: The author first pities him. He will not let other employer to behave rudely with Bartleby, for he wants to purchase a self-approval and a sweet morsel for his conscience.

“Poor fellow! thoughts I, he means no mischief; it is plain he intends no insolence I can get along with him. If I turn him away he will fall in with some less indulgent employer and then he will be rudely treated here I can cheaply purchase a delicious self-approval. To befriend Bartleby will cost me little or nothing, while I lay up in my soul what will eventually prove a sweet morsel for my conscience.”

However, despite the considerations the author shows considerable compassion and responsibility. The measures that the author took against Bartleby for his repeated disobedience were humane and just in the circumstances.