The Nonconfrontational Narrator in “Bartleby the Scrivener”
The short story by Herman Melville, “Bartleby, the Scrivener”, is a first person narration about a copyist who refuses to do the job he was hired for and the inability of the narrator, the scrivener’s boss, to dismiss his disruptive employee. The narrator is a “rather elderly man” who is such an “unambitious lawyer” that those who know him consider him to be “eminently safe” and a wealthy business owner who seldom loses his temper, believes that “the easiest way of life is the best” (143). With the unplanned growth of his business, the narrator feels that he must hire a new employee, a scrivener, to copy the incoming law documents. Even with the narrator being a successful business owner, he fails to confront his employees about their shortcomings within his employment simply because he is so nonconfrontational.
As “being a man of peace” and trying to avoid confrontations, the narrator would often over look some of the lesser qualities of his employee Turkey (144). The older of the two copyists, who would “be altogether too energetic” in the hours before noon, would often come back after lunch and be reckless and incautious (144). The copyist, Turkey, would often leave ink blots in his papers and on some days would be rather noisy “with his chair” and would split his pens to pieces and throw them on the floor in a childish rage (144). The narrator would often “overlook his eccentricities”. At most, he would protest “with him very gently,” trying to avoid confrontations with him (144). The narrator would ignore Turkey’s behavior in the afternoon simply because he came to value his proficiency for work during the morning hours and would avoid confronting him in fear of losing his productivity “accomplishing a great deal of work in a style not easily to be matched” (144).
Turkey was not the only scrivener that the narrator had working for him that he would try to avoid having confrontations with. Nippers, the second of the three copyists, is described as having “two evil powers—ambition and indigestion” (145). The copyist’s ambitions are evident with his impatience with the “duties of a mere copyist” (145). Nippers, who is always receiving visitors from certain fellows “whom he called his clients,” was stealing business from his boss during his work day (145). Any business owner who had employees that were having their personal clients stopping by to have work done would have quickly dismissed that employee. And when Nipper’s indigestion quality surfaces, with him audibly grinding his teeth together along with his occasional cursing during “the heat of business” over mistakes made while copying, the narrator would try to avoid confronting him about his behaviors saying that Nippers “was a very useful man to me” (145). And with Nippers dress code also on the side of lacking he would show up to the office wearing pants that are loose and baggy and his coat ripped and torn looking oily and often smelling “of eating houses”(145). The narrator, while trying to avoid confrontation with his copyist by not dismissing him, was often grateful that Nippers’s poor business manner was only visible in the morning “while in the afternoon he was comparatively mild” (146).
The third scrivener, Bartleby, cause the most difficulty for narrator. When the narrator asks his subordinate Bartleby to help proofread newly copied documents his only reply is “I would prefer not to” (148). The copyist Bartleby’s common answer every time something is asked of him is “I prefer not to” (148). Most any other business owner when placed in this position by an employee, because of his insubordination, would dismiss him. The narrator consistently allows Bartleby to behave in the impertinent manner. He admits he “concluded to forget the matter for the present, reserving it for my future leisure” (148). Even after Bartleby dismisses the request by help the other copyists proofread a large document, the narrator questions his other employees as to how to handle the matter so that he does not have to have a confrontation with Bartleby. One Sunday the narrator stops by his office and finds Bartleby has started living there. When asked to leave, Bartleby refuses, causing tensions to build further. The narrator’s business associates soon notice the narrator’s inability to take command of his business. Unable to force Bartleby out, the narrator decides to move himself, relocating his entire office and leaving Bartleby behind.
The narrator shows on more than one occasion that he does not like to have confrontations with his employees. Even with all of Turkey’s eccentricities that the narrator would often over look to avoid confronting him about it. Or Nipper’s rude mannerisms such as cursing over his mistakes or having his personal clients stop by was not enough to have the narrator lose his temper and confront his employees about their behavior. But Bartleby, who is his newest scrivener, would test his patience on a new level, with the narrator going as far as to move his business to a new building to avoid confrontation. The narrator being as unambitious as he is goes out of his way trying to avoid confrontations with his employees because he would ”prefer not to”.
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