Why did the author not dismiss Bartleby when he replied, “I would prefer not to” a few days after his joining the author’s office?


Why did the author not take any violent measure to dismiss Bartleby from service when he said, “I would prefer not to” to call for performing his duty?


What considerations induced the author to reconcile himself to Bartleby for some time, but to take some action at last?

bartleby (2)Answer: Despite Bartleby’s constant refusal to obey the author’s order, the author could not dismiss Bartleby. He failed to take any violent action against Bartleby. The author considered many things including one commandment of the Bible. But it was only due to his professional colleagues’ interference, the author abandoned Bartleby at last, which accelerated Bartleby’s ultimate death in the prison.

When Bartleby refused, for the first time to obey the order of the author, the author rose to high excitement. But yet he could not react violently, for he could not find anything ordinarily human about Bartleby:

“Not a wrinkle of agitation rippled him. Had there been the least uneasiness, 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.”

When Bartleby’s refusal to obey him occurred for the second time, the author felt again some emotional reaction.

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

The author’s considerations enabled him to reconcile himself to Bartleby. The author gave Bartleby six days’ notice of quitting the office, but Bartleby was still found in his room. The author went angry and severely asked Bartleby whether he would quit or not. Bartleby answered, “I would prefer not to quit you”. The author was in a rage and felt like killing him but he remembered one commandment of the Bible, “Ye love one another” and refrained from doing any violence. Gradually the author came to take the philosophical attitude towards those troubles of his touching the scrivener all these had been predestined from eternity and Bartleby was billeted upon him for some mysterious purpose of an all-wise providence. That purpose was beyond the comprehension of a mortal like the author.


Besides, the author considered Bartleby’s steadiness, his freedom from all dissipation, his incessant industry, his great stillness, his unalterable demeanor, 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 felt his most valuable papers perfectly safe in his hands. The author also realized that any other employer must rudely behave with Bartleby for his eccentric and strange disposition. The author let Bartleby stay at his office so that he could be saved from any rude employer.

“Poor fellow! thought 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 nothing, while I lay up in my soul what will eventually prove a sweet morsel for my conscience.” The author reconciled himself to Bartleby’s presence and decided to let Bartleby stay, by considering all these things. But the author took some action to get rid of Bartleby on the basis of suggestions from his professional colleagues.

After some days, a number of professional friends came to the author’s office and found the arrangement bizarre. They were struck by the peculiar aspect of the unaccountable Bartleby. They threw out some sinister remarks about Bartleby. All through the circle of his professional acquaintance a whisper of wonder was running round having reference to the strange creature he kept at his office. Various speculations were made about Bartleby’s future; he might outlive the author, and might occupy his chambers, etc. All these disturbed the author’s wise and blessed frame of mind. The author worried that his reputation was being damaged by the bizarre man, Bartleby. He advised Bartleby again to leave, but Bartleby did not. So, the narrator moved his office.

The author’s leaving the old chamber had a profound influence on the poor fellow, Bartleby. The landlord and the new tenants of the old place handed Bartleby over to the police. Bartleby was put into the Tombs (a prison meant for the vagrants). Bartleby gave up eating and died there.

So, we see that Bartleby constantly and repeatedly refused the author’s order. The author, yet, did not approach to dismiss him. This aspect of the author is indicative of his tolerant nature, his wisdom, his sense of justice and expediency. The author’s philosophical attitude of accepting everything concerning Bartleby indicates his poetic justice on the one hand, and his gradual change of attitude towards accepting the supramundane. This attitude is consistent with the theme of the story—the meaninglessness of life against the background of death which engulfs everything. The blessed frame of mind of the author would have continued with him for long, had the professional colleagues not obtruded some unsolicited and uncharitable remarks upon him. The author’s considerations about Bartleby speak about his broad humanity but it was vitiated to a great extent by the rather inhuman suggestions of some worldly wise people.