American Notion of Work in Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener

Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville, is a complex, intellectually dense story about the basis of compassion, the transparency of other individuals, and the way confederate social constraints increased concerns about humankind’s metaphysical equivalence. Readers have stressed Bartleby as a representation of incomprehensibility, of the final openness of language or life to understanding in a manner that can never be entirely resolved (Melville, 2021). Equal consideration has been given to evaluating the narrator’s conduct and the story’s assessment of it. While many readers are disappointed by his ability to tolerate his colleagues’ terrible work practices, others respect his affection for a man who opposes it for the most part (Melville, 2021). However, the Scrivener, Bartleby, criticizes the American concept of occupation as a means of self-esteem, as discussed in the paper.

Through the lengthy set-up preceding the presentation of Bartleby, the novel highlights the protagonist’s relevance to his colleagues. The narrator describes himself as an eminently secure man who seeks the most straightforward way of existence (Melville, 2021). This depiction helps to illustrate his behavior toward his subordinates, Turkey, who is inebriated every afternoon, Nippers, who is incapable of working effectively in the morning, and Ginger Nut, who is primarily a messenger (Melville, 2021). However, this contradicts America’s view of work as a source of self-worth, as the state of his coworkers cannot result in increased efficiency, increased production, or improved relationships inside the workplace. Drunkenness and incapacity to work diminishes an individual’s self-worth, impairing the mind’s potential to develop constructively. It appears as though the speaker is more than willing to disregard their times of subpar performance to prevent confrontation or controversy.

Melville implies that Bartleby’s motivations extend much beyond his wish to avoid violence. The speaker concentrates on John Jacob Astor, the wealthiest man in the United States in the 1840s (Melville, 2021). The latter controlled more of Manhattan than anybody else, and a figure frequently identified with the ruthless pursuit of fortune (Melville, 2021). Additionally, the narrator deviates from opposing the removal of the Master of Bankruptcy, a job that requires little work but is extremely well compensated (Melville, 2021). The Master of Chancery was a court role responsible for resolving estate disagreements, stressing the narrator’s role in judicial procedures concerning wealth (Melville, 2021). While the narrator is primarily concerned with leading an easy life, he is somewhat interested in riches and property.

At the same time, he desires to see himself as both a coworker and a supervisor to his colleagues. He diagnoses Nippers’ primary issue as a “diseased drive” to become a lawyer, and after taking Ginger Nut in as a legal student, he instructs him on nothing (Melville, 2021). These elements, along with his deference regarding Turkey when he gives him a worn coat and his cordial greeting of “with submission, sir,” indicates his want to remain above these workers (Melville, 2021). The protagonist displays his other side, his determination to integrate an American sense of social justice, in his strident reaction to Turkey’s plea to his fellow feeling when Turkey insists on keeping Saturday afternoon labor.

America’s notion of work as enabling individuals to improve interactions with team members is criticized by Bartleby in the above scenario. A rise in self-worth enables a person to feel more optimistic and encourages one to transfer their optimism and support to other employees to foster partnerships. On the other hand, Bartleby is driven by his desire to be superior to his colleagues. He, by no chance, offers no support to help his coworkers change from their poor work attitude. Therefore, from the desire and behavior of Bartleby, it is proper to justify that Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville, criticizes America’s concept of work as building an individual’s self-worth.


Melville, H. (2021). Bartleby, the scrivener. Phoemixx Classics Ebooks.

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