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Course Hero. "Bartleby the Scrivener Study Guide." September 15, 2016. Accessed May 21, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Bartleby-the-Scrivener/.

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Course Hero, "Bartleby the Scrivener Study Guide," September 15, 2016, accessed May 21, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Bartleby-the-Scrivener/.

Bartleby the Scrivener | Symbols

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Walls

The walls represent isolation and separation. Bartleby's office is carved out of the office of his boss, the narrator. The office is separated like this so the narrator could "avail [himself] of his services on such trivial occasions." Bartleby's only purpose is to serve his boss and be at his beck and call. The separation is clear: Bartleby is to work until called upon by the narrator. At such time when called upon, Bartleby is to come out from behind the wall and answer to the narrator.

Bartleby's office has one window that looks out upon a brick wall "black by age and everlasting shade." The narrator notes Bartleby would spend long periods of time staring out at the "dead brick wall." What Bartleby is looking at or for is not clear. He is, however, isolating himself from others with only the dead brick wall to occupy his thoughts. His deterioration in behavior and health could stem from a rejection of the soul-destroying capitalist system represented by Wall Street.

Other windows in the office look out at walls or have no view. Thus, there are walls within the office and without, including the street that gives the story's setting and subtitle its name.

Death

Bartleby's employment in the Dead Letter Office is the only personal detail revealed about him. The letters represent a wide spectrum of unrealized potential—both good and bad. The hopelessness of sorting cartloads of undeliverable letters in order to send them off to be burnt is overwhelming, as is the knowledge that the missed letters must have caused enormous suffering. Bartleby leaves this experience (only after being let go) with a sense of hopelessness, and goes on to a new position where he is again dealing with "dead" documents: copies.

Bartleby and death seem to go together. He is described as if he were dead many times in the story: like a ghost, pale, cadaverous, motionless. On multiple occasions the narrator notes Bartleby would stare off in "dead wall revery." The narrator himself speculates it is Bartleby's job of sorting letters that were sent to people who are dead that overwhelmed him. He says, "Dead letters! does it not sound like dead men?" The letters take their toll on Bartleby's soul. It is only a matter of time until he dies a literal death as well.

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