Melville, master of prose that he was, manages here to tell a tragic tale that also has great moments of comedy. He slyly pokes fun at his characters, even when they don't realize it – most notably, he manages to gently mock his first-person narrator by exposing his flaws through his own words. For example, we see in the beginning of the story just how full of himself the Narrator is, when he gleefully name-drops John Jacob Astor, claiming that the great man once gave him a compliment. We also see here just how business-driven the Narrator is; he admits that he loves saying Astor's name, simply because it has the sound of money.
Melville's prose is also marvelously understated and elegant in the way in which it unravels this strange and confusing story. He uses description to draw us into the characters he presents, and rather than alienating us with its wordiness, his lengthy descriptive passages really contribute to our vivid imagining of the strange, lonely men he introduces us to in this law office.