Why does the author call the story Bartleby the Scrivener? Give reasons for your answer.
Do you think that the story is appropriately titled?
Discuss the title of the story Bartleby the Scrivener.
Answer: The title of a story is sometimes given after the name of the protagonist, and sometimes after the theme. The story Bartleby the Scrivener has been named after the protagonist’s name, Bartleby. The whole story is devoted to the description of the protagonist’s physical features and explanations of his character trait through his actions.
From an account of the story we can clearly see that the incidents and actions in the story center round the character and person, the actions and feelings of Bartleby.
The author, as a result of the expansion of his business, required one more clerk in addition to the three that he already had. He put up an advertisement and in answer to it “a motionless young man one morning stood upon my office threshold, the door being open, for it was summer. I can see that figure now pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, incurably forlorn! It was Bartleby.”
The author engaged Bartleby, glad to have among his corps of copyists a man of singularly sedate aspect which, he thought, might operate beneficially upon the flighty temper of Turkey and the fiery one of Nippers. He resolved to assign Bartleby a corner by the folding-doors of his office, so that he could have this quiet man within easy call in case any trifling thing was to be done.
During the first two days, Bartleby did an extraordinary quantity of writing, as if long famishing for something to copy; he seemed to gorge himself on the author’s documents. But he was not cheerfully industrious, he wrote on silently, palely, mechanically. On the third day, when the author called him to complete a small affair of examining a small paper with him, he surprisingly replied, “I would prefer not to”. From that time on, he gave the same answer whenever the author called upon him to do anything relating to his job. Bartleby concluded four lengthy documents. It was necessary to examine them because it was an important suit. The author called Turkey, Nippers and Ginger Nut from the next room. Then, Bartleby was called, but he replied, “I would prefer not to.” The author was astounded but he did not fly into a rage because there was something in Bartleby which disarmed and disconcerted him. The author closely observed Bartleby and found out that Bartleby never left his place in the room and lived on ginger nuts. Bartleby ultimately gave up writing. The author gave him six days’ notice telling him that within the time he must unconditionally leave the office. He also gave an assurance of sufficient money. But still Bartleby was found in the room. The author asked him whether he 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, “Ye love one another” and refrained from doing anything. He accepted it as his fate. He would have remained in that condition, had not his professional colleagues’ uncharitable remarks about Bartleby prejudiced him. He decided to move his office. He did move his office but still Bartleby haunted the old place. The landlord and the new tenants of the old place handed Bartleby over to the police who put him into prison. Bartleby gave up eating and died there. From the rumors after his death, the author collected the information that prior to joining him, Bartleby had worked in a dead letter office, which might have profoundly changed him and made him totally averse to life.
The theme along with the symbols and images of the story relate to the central character, Bartleby. Through the name Bartleby the Scrivener, the title symbolizes all those isolated working people whom the authoritarian world has separated from all human affairs and sentiments. Bartleby’s situation of life and working environment has cut him off from nature and afterwards from other men of the world. The office that Bartleby worked in was incredibly bleak and the landscape of the Wall Street was completely devoid of any human warmth–chilly, dark, and sterile. Bartleby lost all interest and enthusiasm for this bleak world, disengaged him from it, and ultimately died. He is the symbol of all the scriveners who are cut off from the normally enjoyable world by the rigorous rules of its mechanization and authoritarianism.
The title of the story also owes its appropriateness to the status of Bartleby as an anti-hero. He does not possess any heroic qualities; he suffers not for any fatal weakness on his part. He is a tragic anti-hero in the sense that he imposes some self-imposed sufferings upon himself and ultimately undergoes a tragic death. The author’s hinting about the reason of his indifference towards life does not alleviate our compassion; rather we feel deep sympathy for him, for he is an almost innocent individual who has been a victim of the social system he works for.
So the title is appropriate since it reflects all the aspects of the life, actions, feelings and sentiments of an ordinary man like Bartleby the Scrivener, who is an anti-hero in this story. The title also subsumes all the symbols and images used in the story which have helped develop the character of the protagonist to a reasonably full extent within the compass of a short story.