Study Guide

Bartleby the Scrivener What's Up With the Title?

By Herman Melville

What's Up With the Title?

One might say that the mysterious character of Bartleby is the true heart of this enigmatic short story – but he's not exactly a lively, vibrant, beating heart. It's significant that Melville chose simply to name the whole story after this odd man; like our nameless narrator, we are all increasingly fascinated and perhaps horrified by Bartleby's behavior.

If we are to take into account the full original title, "Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street," the setting also comes into play. The fact that the story takes place in Wall Street, which was known as a bustling center of business and finance even back in Melville's day, makes it all the more fascinating – Melville's choice to place his inactive anti-hero smack-dab in the middle of the busy Financial District makes Bartleby himself even more of an anomaly. It also asks us to question the kinds of human interaction that occurs in the workplace; Bartleby, who exists only in this world of professional acquaintance, is apparently a man without a personal history, and without any meaningful human relationships.

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