What is the significance of the ending of the story Bartleby the Scrivener?

bartleby (2)Answer: The short story Bartleby the Scrivener possesses many brilliant qualities or merits which have made it a successful story. The ending of the story is one of its significant aspects—significant in many ways. What happens at the end of the story is tragic and thought provoking. The protagonist, Bartleby, dies. The author could unfold the mystery of Bartleby’s indifference by the rumor of his previous working in a dead-letter office. Through the tragic death of Bartleby the author have profound realizations about life.

At the end of the novel, Bartleby was handed over to the police who had removed Bartleby to the Tombs as a vagrant. The author visited Bartleby in the prison and told the grubman to arrange all pleasant things for Bartleby. A few days later, the author found Bartleby strangely huddled at the base of a wall of the yard not accessible to common prisoners, his knees drawn up, lying on his side, his head touching the cold stones. The author touched him, and a tingling shiver ran up his arm and down his spine to his feet. Bartleby was dead. A few months after Bartleby’s death the author heard some rumors about Bartleby’s life before he became the author’s clerk. Bartleby had worked in a dead-letter office in Washington where he handled dead-letters. The author thought over the rumor, but he could hardly express the emotions which seized him. “Dead letters! Does it not sound like dead men?”


Bartleby’s death at the end has made the story a tragic one. Bartleby is a tragic anti-hero in the sense that he imposed upon himself extra-ordinary and masochistic sufferings for some mysterious reasons. His sufferings are not due to any great fault in his character; they are due to some mental abnormality acquired through undergoing some experiences in the very social system. Before his death, and shortly after joining the services of the author in the capacity as a copyist, Bartleby lost all interest for work. First of all, he refused to obey any order by the author, though the author was his master. Whatever the author said, he refused to do that. He just copied documents and stayed within the room that he was assigned his place in. After a little period of time, he even refused to do his main job—copying. He did not even take his dinner. He lived on ginger-nuts. When the author could not get rid of him, he himself changed his office. But still Bartleby haunted the old chamber. The landlord and new tenants of the chamber called the police and evicted him, and put him into prison meant for the vagrants. There Bartleby died.

At the end of the story, many mysteries were unfolded before the author. When the author found Bartleby lying, he went close up to him, stopped over and saw that his dim eyes were open. Otherwise he seemed profoundly asleep. When he touched the body of Bartleby, a tingling shiver ran up his arm and down his spine to his feet. The round face of the grubman now peered upon him. He said, “His dinner is ready. Won’t he dine today, either? Or does he live without dining?” The author replied that he lived without dining and he was asleep with kings and counselors. The author’s reply to the grub man’s questions expresses a profound philosophy that is embodied in this tragic story. Bartleby lived without dining—this indicates that he was totally averse to life. His sleeping with kings and counselors points to this philosophy of life that life is absolutely meaningless because whatever we achieve in life is totally engulfed by death which reduces everything into nothingness. When the author heard Bartleby’s dealing with dead letters in a dead-letter office, he uttered—

“On errands of life, these letters speed to death.”

With the death of Bartleby, the end of his life takes place and with the use of the word ‘death’ the end of the story takes place. The author finds it difficult to express the emotion seizing him. “Dead-letters” sound like dead men and a man by nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness might be profoundly affected by his dealing with dead letters. These letters were annually burned by the cartload. Hope was conveyed through a letter to someone who died unhoping. Sometimes from out of the folded papers the pale clerk (Bartleby) took a ring while the finger it was meant for moldered in the grave. The person to whom a banknote was sent for alleviating his suffering, did no more eat or drink. These letters were sent on errands of life, but actually they did speed to death. Perhaps, Bartleby was profoundly affected by his constant and repeated exposures to the dead letters and his death was speeded up.

The rumor at the end of the story is significant in many respects. We learn that Bartleby lost the Dead-letter office due to an administrative change. The doubling here continues: the narrator also lost his position due to bureaucratic change as well. Here, the doubling is expanded. Bartleby is a phantom double not only for the narrator, but for all humanity. The dead-letter office is a place of supreme gloom, where evidence of human mortality and the futility of our best intentions would have been unavoidable. The narrator, who adapts his life, thrives in the world that exhausted Bartleby, cannot help but be moved by Bartleby’s vision. The tone of his final statement “Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!” is a sadness mixed with resignation, a pained sigh rather than a shriek of anger. He has failed to help even one man. -He can do nothing to alter human condition.

So, the ending of the story is undoubtedly significant. The mystery of Bartleby’s constant refusal to obey any order is unfolded at the end. The author, who witnessed the death of Bartleby realized the meaninglessness of life and inevitability of death. The author’s hinting, at the end of the story, about the cause of Bartleby’s mental condition, does not alleviate our compassion; it rather increases our deep sympathy for him, since we come to know that he is a victim, almost innocent, of the social system he had to live in.