Feb 20, 2009
Herman Melville, “Bartleby the Scrivener” (1853)
“I prefer not to.”
South Sea adventure stories (1846-1850)
Short fiction, including “Bartleby the Scrivener” (1853-1856)
(published posthumously in 1924)
“Bartleby” and the Cubicle Culture (Dilbert,
(profit, productivity, conformity)
Soul-killing office routine triumphs even over the potentially
vices of Turkey, Nippers, Ginger Nut…
Bartleby “prefers” not to proofread and soon anything else, even his job.
Bartleby’s use of “prefer” is infecting the entire office and even the narrator.
The lawyer offers money, his home, etc. to try to help Bartleby.
Bartleby seems to contemplate what the lawyer has to say before replying.
Bartleby grows to prefer not doing anything—not leave, not eat, not live.
This is the first office cubicle described.
“I resolved to assign Bartleby a corner by the folding-doors, but on my side of
them, so as to have this quiet man within easy call, in case any trifling thing
was to be done. I placed his desk close up to a small side-window in that part
of the room, a window which originally had afforded a lateral view of certain
grimy back-yards and bricks, but which, owing to subsequent erections,
commanded at present no view at all, though it gave some light. Within three
feet of the panes was a wall, and the light came down from far above, between
two lofty buildings, as from a very small opening in a dome. Still further to a
satisfactory arrangement, I procured a high green folding screen,
entirely isolate Bartleby from my sight, though not remove him from my
voice. And thus, in a manner, privacy and society were conjoined.”
Melville plays with “Wall Street”.