| Quote #1
I sat awhile in perfect silence, rallying my stunned faculties. Immediately it occurred to me that my ears had deceived me, or Bartleby had entirely misunderstood my meaning. I repeated my request in the clearest tone I could assume; but in quite as clear a one came the previous reply, "I would prefer not to." (20)
This strange interaction demonstrates the essential problem of language in this story – it's both immensely powerful and incredibly futile. Bartleby's statement has an almost physical impact on the Narrator, but it doesn't necessarily communicate anything clearly.
| Quote #2
"Will you tell me anything about yourself?"
This passage demonstrates the unsatisfactory nature of communication via language in this story – Bartleby's refusal to speak is tantamount to a refusal to be human at all.
| Quote #3
Somehow, of late, I had got into the way of involuntarily using this word "prefer" upon all sorts of not exactly suitable occasions. And I trembled to think that my contact with the scrivener had already and seriously affected me in a mental way. And what further and deeper aberration might it not yet produce? (66)
The irresistible spread of Bartleby's distinctive style of speaking – especially his favorite word – shows us what a powerful marker of influence language can be at times, even when we don't realize it.