Bartleby the Scrivener is an 1853 short story by Herman Melville The story is presented in the form of a novella and is set in the mid-19th century. Bartleby is a copyist, or scrivener, who works in a law office. He is a quiet, introverted figure who gradually withdraws from the world and shows an aversion to physical labor and any sense of commitment to his job. Throughout the novella, the narrator and other characters attempt to understand Bartleby’s strange behavior, but ultimately fail to do so.
Bartleby, the Scrivener is highly significant in the history of literature for its unique approach to exploring the psychological complexity of its characters and its innovative narrative structure. As such, its fascinating themes provide fertile ground for exploring fascinating essay topics. Here are five of the best essay topics that explore the themes of Bartleby, the Scrivener:
1. The Narrator’s Ambivalence Towards Bartleby: Throughout the novella, the narrator’s attitude towards Bartleby is one of ambivalence; he is both troubled and fascinated by Bartleby’s behavior and resistant to providing him with assistance. An essay topic here could explore the narrator’s attitude towards Bartleby, analyzing the reasons why he feels drawn to the scrivener and yet so deeply troubled by him.
2. Bartleby’s Refusal to Cooperate: Bartleby’s resistance to accepting his position in the world is symbolized by his rejection of every job offer, his refusal to work, and his consistent, non-cooperative attitude towards his employers. An essay here could focus on the ways in which Bartleby’s refusal to cooperate can be interpreted as a reflection of his underlying feelings of alienation.
3. The Role of The Law in the Story: The law is a central motif in the story; from the narrator’s initial despair concerning multiple references to the law to the presence of the Lawyer in the story, the law is a pervasive theme in the narrative. An essay exploring this theme could examine how the law is used to both oppress and liberate characters and how it serves as a metaphor for Bartleby’s own complex situation.
4. The Significance of Names in the Story: Names are used to great effect in the story and are a crucial tool in developing characterization and themes. An essay topic here could explore the ways in which names are used to give clues to the reader about the personalities of the characters and the themes that the story is exploring.
5. Bartleby’s Refusal as a Form of Protest: Bartleby’s refusal to cooperate can be interpreted as a form of protest against the dehumanizing nature of modern capitalism. An essay here could explore this idea in detail, examining the ways in which Bartleby’s refusal can be seen as a form of political resistance.