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Bartleby the Scrivener

Bartleby the Scrivener


by Herman Melville

Bartleby Timeline and Summary

  • Bartleby shows up at the Narrator's office, seeking work as a scrivener.
  • When asked to assist the Narrator in checking a document, Bartleby refuses, saying only that he "would prefer not to."
  • Over the next several days, Bartleby "prefers not to" do several things, ranging from working with the rest of the office team to check a set of documents, to even going to the next room to get Nippers.
  • One Sunday, the Narrator discovers Bartleby at the office. Bartleby boldly demands that the Narrator leave for a while so he can get ready for the day. It turns out that Bartleby lives in the office.
  • Bartleby prefers not to answer any questions about his personal life or his past.
  • Bartleby informs the Narrator that he will not be copying any more. After a couple of days, he tells the Narrator that he will never copy anything again.
  • When asked to vacate the office, Bartleby refuses.
  • Even when the Narrator tries to pay Bartleby to leave, Bartleby just returns the money unobtrusively.
  • On the morning by which the Narrator demanded Bartleby leave, the Narrator discovers that the scrivener is still living in the office, and that he doesn't intend to leave.
  • Bartleby's presence begins to disturb clients and associates of the law practice.
  • Bartleby stays in the office, even when everyone else vacates, and another lawyer moves in.
  • Kicked out of the office, Bartleby continues to live in the building, which offends all of the other tenants.
  • When the Narrator returns to try and reason with him, Bartleby claims that he prefers not to do anything but stay in the building, though, as he says, he is "not particular."
  • Bartleby is removed from the building and taken to jail at the Tombs; he doesn't put up a fight.
  • Bartleby refuses to speak to the Narrator when he comes to visit; he may blame his former employer for what has happened to him.
  • For days, Bartleby prefers not to eat.
  • Bartleby dies in prison, presumably because he prefers not to live any longer.