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A Panorama of “Bartleby, the Scrivener”

March 29, 2012 | by

Bartleby is a law clerk on Wall Street who one day refuses a demand from his startled boss with the words “I’d prefer not to.” Over time, he prefers to do less and less, confounding the lawyer, until at last he is taken to prison, where he refuses to eat. At the end of the story, we learn that Bartleby worked in the Dead Letter Office, burning people’s unclaimed letters.

I drew this as a break from struggling with a larger piece I’ve been working on, so I was amused to learn that Melville wrote “Bartleby” while struggling with Moby Dick. Indeed, some of the details in this story are reminiscent of Melville’s sea fiction: there are no women; the world outside Bartleby’s office is murky, like the sea; he stares out the window at a brick wall for hours on end, like a weary mariner gazing at an endless horizon. The prevailing tone is one of destruction, so I used the flame from my kitchen stove to burn the bottom edge of the panel.

Click in and scroll down for the whole tale.


Jason Novak works at a grocery store in Berkeley, California, and changes diapers in his spare time.

12 COMMENTS

8 Comments

  1. Richard Ede | March 29, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    Jason Novak has a fine Perspective on Things.

  2. Chris Roberts | March 29, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Really, at its core, Novak offers little illumination on the larger or largeness of Melville and no contextual comparison.

  3. Ryan Young | March 30, 2012 at 2:23 am

    It’s a cool drawing, Chris Roberts. Why do you have to be such a jerk about it? What is the “largeness of Melville”? Contextual comparison to what? Your comment isn’t exactly shedding light on anything either.

  4. BettieSue | March 30, 2012 at 10:00 am

    What’s s scrivener these days??

  5. Clark Morrow | March 30, 2012 at 10:42 am

    A scrivener is someone inscribed or writes — a clerk.

  6. evan roskos | March 30, 2012 at 11:11 am

    that is PHENOMENAL. well done, especially the last portion with the letters. Love teaching this story to my college students — they never know what the Dead Letter Office is, which makes me sad, but then I get to help them discover the meaning of the ending.

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4 Pingbacks

  1. [...] The Paris Review, Jason Novak sketches a clever panorama of Melville’s “Bartleby the [...]

  2. [...] Here is a pretty sweet panorama of Bartleby, the Scrivener. [...]

  3. [...] Paris Review Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. Published: July 16, 2012 Filed Under: Uncategorized [...]

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