Melville’s story is about the dehumanizing effects of the new social order. It is situated in the business center of New York, at Wall Street. Melville’s Narrator has no name, thus symbolically he has lost his personhood, his humanity. He is a lawyer; however, the Narrator is quick to point out that he is not a champion of justice or defender of right. Instead, he describes himself a “one of those unambitious lawyers who never addresses a jury, or in any way draws down public applause; but in the cool tranquility of a snug retreat, do a snug business among rich men’s bonds and mortgages and title-deeds.” In short, the Narrator is a man whose life is dedicated to the pursuit of wealth and leisure. In a time when commerce and industrialization is on the rise, his job is to aid the newly rich in securing their property, their titles and bonds.
On the other hand, Bartleby is the only character in the story with a real name – not a nickname like Turkey, Nipper or Ginger Nut. Bartleby is a man who is entirely disconnected with the world of the wealthy. Sad, quiet and miserable, he writes from morning to night, lives in the office, is surrounded by blank walls with little light, does not eat dinners, and does not have any friends. However, when asked by the Narrator to perform some simple tasks, he flatly, though politely, refuses, without any excuse except that he does not prefer to. Here is depicted the conflict of the regimen of the workplace and personal will. Bartleby is insistent that he abide by his own free will and not be dictated upon by those with the money. It appears, then, that the Narrator, who is schooled, titled and honoured, could be bought, but Bartleby, poor, simple and unknown, could not. Even when the Narrator gives him twenty dollars’ premium over his wages, he quietly shows his refusal.
In the story, one cannot help but attach