How has the author characterized Nippers?
What ideas about Nippers do you gather from your study of the story Bartleby the Scrivener?
Answer: Nippers is the second clerk of the author in the story Bartleby the Scrivener. The author exists as a half-man and Turkey and Nippers himself are viewed as a single person. Nipper’s activities show regular fits of imbalance and nervous paroxysm- He himself and Turkey are guards of each other. Through his character, the writer has brought out some important theme of the story.
Nippers is a young man of about twenty five years. He presents a completely opposite picture of himself. He is a whiskered, sallow and piratical looking young man. The author deemes him to be a victim of two evil powers—ambition and indigestion. He describes his restless nature with great fidelity and accuracy:
“… Whiskered, sallow and upon the whole rather piratical looking young man, of about five and twenty…. though of a very ingenious mechanical turn, Nippers could never get his table to suit him…. In short the truth of the matter was, Nippers knew not what he wanted.”
His ambition was evinced by a certain impatience of the duties of a mere copyist, an unwarrantable usurpation of strictly professional affairs, such as the original drawing up of legal documents. The indigestion appeared in an occasional nervous testiness and grinning irritability, which cause the teeth to audibly grind together over mistakes committed in copying. In the heat of business he makes unnecessary maledictions, hisses rather than speaks and continually expresses discontent with the height of the table when he works. Though of a very ingenious mechanical turn, he could never get his table suit him. Among the manifestations of his, diseased ambition is a fondness he has for receiving visits from certain ambitions looking young fellows in seedy coats, whom he calls his clients. He occasionally does a little business at the justice courts. One individual who called upon him at the author’s chambers was no other than a dun, and the alleged little-deed was a bill. But with all his failings and the annoyances he caused, he is a useful man to the author. He writes a neat and swift hand. When he chooses he can afford to be of gentlemanly deportment. He always dressed smartly and so incidentally reflects credit upon the author’s chambers. Whatever might be his faults in other respects, Nippers is at least a temperate young man. But he is of a changeable disposition. It is fortunate for the author that Nippers is irritable and nervous in the morning, while in the afternoon, he is comparatively mild.
Nippers’ nickname does not appear to fit his character. He does not really seem to resemble a nipper in any way. He might be so named because he is ill-tempered and “nippy” in the morning, but this too seems like a rather glib interpretation. He is also reminiscent of nursery rhyme or fairy tale characters due to his strange nick name.
“Nippers’ and Turkey’s behavior complement each other. Nippers grumbles over a sour stomach and plays with a desk in the morning, while Turkey is a good worker at that time. In the afternoon, Nippers works quietly and diligently. Turkey after 12 o’clock is red-faced and angry. His face blazes like a grate full of Christmas coals, and continues blazing with a gradual wave till six p.m. He displays his fullest beams from his red and radiant countenance, his business capacities begin to be seriously disturbed, for the remainder of the twenty four hours. Thus, they relieve each other like guards. They are the Tweedledee and Tweedledum of the Wall Street world. They are doubles of each other. Nippers’ ambition mirrors Turkey’s resignation to his place, and the sad uneventfulness of his career, the difference coming about because of their respective ages. Nippers cherishes ambition of being more than a mere scrivener, while Turkey must plead with the narrator to consider his age when evaluating his productivity. It is observable that the nervous paroxysms of Nippers and Turkey appear alternatively—Nippers’ appear in the morning and Turkey’s in the afternoon. Due to his indigestion, Nippers in the morning has irritability and consequent nervousness, but he is comparatively mild in the afternoon. Turkey in the morning is quite, but he has different nature after 12 o’clock p.m. The author feels that it was a good natural arrangement under the particular circumstances prevailing that time. But alone, Nippers exists as a “half-man” in an utterly unnatural state. Nippers spends an equal amount of time grinding his teeth and rearranging his desk in frustration caused by indigestion.
The character of Nippers shows certain eccentricities and paradoxes and he can be regarded as a foil to the character of Turkey. Turkey is old but he is young. Turkey is sober in the morning, but irritable and disorderly in the afternoon. Nippers is irritable in the morning but sober in the afternoon. By way of contrast, his character is also related, like Turkey’s the theme of the story—life’s utter meaningless as represented by Bartleby’s outlook on life. Nippers is the victim of two evil powers—ambition and indigestion. His ambition appears in his impatience of the duties of a mere copyist—he wants to be something more than a copyist. His indigestion is evident in his too much irritability at his mistakes, and the height of the table. All his furies and flurries seem utterly meaningless or extremely silly considered against the background of the absolute futility of human existence as represented by Bartleby.
The relationship between Nippers and Turkey brings out an underlying theme. The authoritarian and mechanized world in which these characters live demands that individuals be useful to it. Although they represent an efficient duo, each taking over when the other one goes mad, they are useful to society only because they have been reduced to miserable drones that hardly represent the full range of humanity.
Nippers has not been fully successful to satisfy the author, due to his eccentricities. The author was glad to engage a sober man like Bartleby as one of the copyists, because he thought that he would have a good, sobering influence on Turkey and Nippers. Nippers needs such influence as he has some eccentricities in habit and nature. Bartleby’s influence might operate beneficially upon the fiery temper of Nippers. But Nippers is influenced only by the words “prefer not to” used by Bartleby. As a whole, there is no conspicuous influence of Bartleby upon him. He rather suggests that Bartleby should be dismissed for his repeated disobedience toward the author. Ultimately, Bartleby cannot hold his position, but Nippers survives despite being eccentric to a great extent.
So, we find that Nippers is a copyist full of contradictions and eccentricities. Ambition and indigestion have made him quite distracted. He is a person of a symbolic nickname. He serves as a guard to Turkey who also serves as a guard for him. He is a representative of the world of work and business.