Study Guide

Bartleby the Scrivener Isolation

By Herman Melville


We'll just put this out there: Bartleby is a guy that lives alone in his workplace. He sleeps, eats, shaves, and hangs out in his cubicle. He has no friends. He has no family. He doesn't even have a dog. The only people he ever sees are his coworkers, and he basically refuses all interaction with them. Do you think he's isolated? Heck, yeah! This short story explores the nature of Bartleby's extreme isolation, and of its impact on the world around him, and forces readers to ask themselves how much of humanity is contained in our communal nature.

Questions About Isolation

  1. Do you think Bartleby is troubled at all by his profound isolation?
  2. Do you think the Narrator is troubled by his isolation?
  3. As far as we can tell, is the world Melville presents one in which meaningful relationships are even possible?

Chew on This

Bartleby is simply an extreme example of a problem that is prevalent in all of Melville's characters in "Bartleby the Scrivener" – the widening space between individuals.

In "Bartleby the Scrivener," Melville delivers a scathing diagnosis of the fervent belief in individualism that was popular in philosophy and literature of his time.

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