How do you regard the rather Dickensian minor characters in this storyTurkey Nippers and Ginger Nut?

Herman Melville is regarded as perhaps the greatest American writer of the nineteenth century. He
was descended from aristocrats on both his mothers and his fathers side yet his fathers death when
Herman was twelve ended Hermans education (compare Mark Twain) and forced him to work at
various menial jobs which must have been frustrating alienating and yes absurd to somebody with
Hermans background and potential. His father had been an import/export merchant and had often
crossed the Atlantic on business to England. Herman loved hearing his fathers sea stories and at
nineteen Herman shipped before the mast as an apprentice seaman on a merchant ship to
Liverpool. Later he embarked on a long whaling voyage to the South Pacific jumped ship at the
Marquesas islands and lived among cannibals for a while made his way to the Sandwich Islands
(Hawaii) shipped aboard a U.S. naval frigate and eventually returned home with enough adventures
by age 25 to last a lifetime. He made use of these experiences in a series of popular novels: Typee
Omoo Redburn and White-Jacket. His one early foray into a philosophical novel Mardi an
allegory set in the South Seas didnt fare so well with the public. In his sixth novel he wrote his
most profoundly philosophical symbolic and eloquent novel Moby-Dick; or The Whale (1851)
which deals with questions of existence ethics and meaning against the backdrop of a doomed
whaling voyage. (A reasonably good film version of the novel was made in the 1950s starring
Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab and Richard Basehart as Ishmael.) The public didnt understand and
hence didnt like this novel nor did the public like his subsequent darkly psychological novel of
innocence and guilt: Pierre; or The Ambiguities. These failures discouraged Melville and he turned
to writing shorter works for a while including the masterful stories Bartleby the Scrivener and
Benito Cereno (which I teach in my ENGL 296 class). After a cynical psychological exploration
of con artistry and human gullibility in his novel The Confidence-Man Melville spent the remaining
decades of his life in relative obscurity writing mostly poetry. Before his death in 1891 he
completed the novella Billy Budd a complex tale of irony ambiguity satire and affirmation that
wasnt discovered and published until three decades later sparking a Melville revival that has
lasted until this day. Melville is among the most studied of American authors because of his
complex symbolism brooding depths of philosophical and psychological thought and intense
narrative ability.
Bartleby the Scrivener is perhaps Melvilles finest short story. Bartleby has social financial
and political resonance of course but it also anticipates with darkly Dickensian ironic humor the
absurdity alienation and poignancy revealed by existentialism a century later. There it is the story
suggests about futility despair death. Yes there it is. I think about the No Trespassing sign
hanging on the fence surrounding the Kane mansion in Orson Welless cinematic masterpiece Citizen
Kane. The great and the small and the nothing at all. I agree with literary critic Martin Scofield that
Bartleby is one of the worlds greatest short stories if only for that reason. Besides its impressive
to agree with somebody like Martin Scofield.
to agree with somebody like Martin Scofield.
You might think about why Melville chose to narrate his story through this particular first-person
narrator with his sundry humors sympathies and limitations and what is suggested about the
narrator his world and ourselves. And please dont tell me that you would prefer not to!
Discussion Questions:
1. Why is Bartleby the Scrivener narrated this way? What is the first-person narrator like? How
does he influence the way we view Bartleby?
2. Why do you think Melville chose to subtitle this story A Story of Wall Street? How do walls
figure actually and symbolically in this narrative? What do they suggest about Bartleby and his life?
3. How do you regard the rather Dickensian minor characters in this storyTurkey Nippers and
Ginger Nut? How do they influence the way we look at this story and Bartleby?
4. The ending is profound and moving. What might this story be suggesting through this ending?