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Short Story Literary Analysis on Theme and Protagonist - Essay Sample

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608 words
Harvey Mudd College
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The short story Bartleby, the Scrivener takes place in a Wall Street law office. The law office is run by a lawyer who acts as a first-person narrator in the story. The short story tells us more about the daily happenings that take place in the office before Bartleby arrives. The office has three employees namely Nippers, Turkey, and Ginger-nut whereby Nippers and Turkey are scriveners. The Lawyer who is the narrator of the story acts as the protagonist since goal and problem drive the plot. This essay discusses how the themes of isolation, disconnected workplace and compassion and responsibility are connected to the characterization of the protagonist.

The protagonists character greatly influences the development of the theme of isolation and the failure to connect which is evidenced in the story. The Lawyer has an outer conflict with Bartleby and also has an inner conflict with himself. In the story, conflict emerges when Bartleby is hired by the lawyer to be a scrivener as well. The first problem is Bartleby refuses to sit together with the other scriveners to proofread the documents, and the only response he gives for everything that he is requested to do is I would prefer not to (Melville, 1975, p. 7). The character of the lawyer influences this theme since he is unable to control Bartleby in the most straightforward way that an employer is required to manage an employee. He is unable to connect with Bartley and ends up calling the police to remove him from his office because of his passive aggressiveness.

The theme of compassion and responsibility is connected to the protagonists character. The lawyer fails to show compassion to the scrivener who needs help. The narrator does not take up his responsibility of finding out what problem Bartleby would be facing that makes him lack the desire to do any work, but rather he says he is responsible for himself and fires him from his work and even decides to relocate to another office. This is evidence in a small epilogue which the lawyer says I cant shed light on what was wrong with Bartleby or who he was (Melville, 1975, p. 26). Later in the story, we find the lawyer trying to show some compassion towards Bartleby while he is in jail when he pays the grub-man so that he could give Bartleby better food.

There exist a connection between the storys theme of a disconnected workplace and the protagonist. Disconnection is one of the major problems that is evidenced in the Wall Street law office. The failure of the lawyer's efforts to know Bartleby heightens the disconnection between the people in the office. In the story, the lawyer tries to position Bartlebys desk in his office to create more chances of getting connected to him, but it bows no fruits. The lawyer goes ahead and to try to befriend Bartleby and says To humor him in his strange willfulness, will cost him nothing (Melville, 1975, p. 10).The lawyer despite being a man who is successful acts like a victim of progress in some ways and this creates room for disconnection in the office. Bartleby had lost the position he initially held in the office since the lawyer had considered it as being redundant and eliminated it and this led to the disconnection between him and Bartleby.

In conclusion, the status of the lawyer of being a Christian and businessman in the story results in him having internal conflict. The lawyers character is connected to the development of the various themes in the story as he has tension between his Christian charitable character and capitalistic pressure.


Melville, H. (1975). Bartleby the scivener. Munchen: DTV.

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