Melville Stories

by: Herman Melville

"Bartleby the Scrivener"

Some critics have proposed that the Lawyer is a "collector" of sorts; that is, he collects "characters" in the from of strange scriveners: "I have known very many of them and, if I pleased, could relate [diverse] histories, at which good-natured gentlemen might smile, and sentimental souls might weep." Bartleby, then, is the "prize" of the Lawyer's collection, the finest tale: the Lawyer says, "I waive the biographies of all other scriveners for a few passages in the life of Bartleby, who was a scrivener, the strangest I ever saw, or heard of." Under this reading, the Lawyer seems a little cold in his recollection—as if Bartleby were no more than an interesting specimen of an insect. The role of the Lawyer is just one of the many hotly debated aspects of the story. Of particular interest is the question of whether the Lawyer is ultimately a friend or foe to Bartleby. His treatment of Bartleby can be read both as sympathetic, pitying, or cold, depending on one's interpretation. Some readers simply resign themselves to the fact that nothing in Melville is set in such black-and-white terms.