Study Guide

Bartleby the Scrivener Genre

By Herman Melville



This may seem like something of an odd choice of genre, but the more we think about it, the more clearly "Bartleby" can be defined as a parable of what Melville saw to be the dangers of the modern world. After all, we are left with a lesson of sorts regarding the threat of alienation and too much individualism; Bartleby reminds us of something that good ol' poet John Donne observed in the 17th century, the assertion that "No man is an island." Or rather, "no man can be an island." Or perhaps just "No man should be an island." Whatever. Even though the bustling business world in which Bartleby takes place, and the broader context of 19th-century America appears to value above all else the idea of the self-made man, Melville reminds us sharply that this might not be the best model to follow – he accomplishes this by showing us Bartleby, a self-unmade man of sorts.

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