A Panorama of “Bartleby, the Scrivener”
March 29, 2012 | by Jason Novak
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.
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