Study Guide

Bartleby the Scrivener Choices

By Herman Melville


One of the things that make us human is our ability to make complex choices, even about the simplest of things. We don't always just do what we "should" do, and sometimes our most unconventional decisions lead to the greatest outcomes; after all, the choices we make in life create the unique individuals we all become. However, in "Bartleby the Scrivener," Herman Melville asks us to question what governs the choices we make – and how our capacity for decision making and independent thought, which is often so wonderful, can sometimes be a dangerous thing…with potentially fatal consequences.

Questions About Choices

  1. What, in your opinion, motivates Bartleby's "preferences"?
  2. Whose choices are responsible for Bartleby's death?
  3. Does Bartleby's repetitive assertion that he "prefer[s]" not to do anything constitute a specific choice?
  4. Considering the events of the story, do you think "choice" can be a passive act?

Chew on This

The Narrator's decision to abandon Bartleby at the Wall Street office ultimately leads to the scrivener's death.

Bartleby's insistence upon his lack of particularity ultimately demonstrates that he simply "prefer[s]" not to make choices at all.

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