Melville's 1853 story employs food and nourishment as visual imagery to portray the ability to relate to others that we have learned as children from our own nurturing parents.
The tale revolves around a sad and out of place scribe that comes to work for the narrator. Bartleby, the scribe, begins with much industry, but soon takes to idleness as he prefers to do less and less as the story progresses. The narrator, who owns the law firm and is Bartleby's employer, is taken aback and frustrated by any attempt to get Bartleby to fulfil his obligations as a scribe. The other three characters in the owner's employ are far more critical of Bartleby's preference not to work than the compassionate owner is. The narrator, refusing to cause Bartleby undue legal problems, eventually evacuates his office and leaves the odd scrivener behind.
Melville has aptly named two of the office scribes after food. Turkey is an older gentleman given to drink at lunch and becoming excitable and moody in the afternoon. Ginger Nut is the young apprentice who was placed in the owner's hire at the age of twelve when his father died. The third scribe, Nippers, was a young man "... whiskered, sallow, and, upon the whole, rather piratical-looking young man ... the victim of two evil powers--ambition and indigestion". Melville describes the temperament of each character through the study of their eating habits or lack of them.