Study Guide

Bartleby the Scrivener Rules and Order

By Herman Melville

Rules and Order

Whether or not we realize it, our everyday lives are dictated by a complex network of rules and regulations. For the most part, even the extremely independent-minded among us still do the things we're supposed to – you know, we follow traffic signals, pay for things at stores, go to work or school, the usual stuff. What, though, would happen if one (or all!) of us just stopped following the rules and started simply doing what we "prefer" to do? Could civilization still function? You'll have to read "Bartleby the Scrivener" to try and find out.

Questions About Rules and Order

  1. Do you perceive Bartleby's actions – or lack thereof – as actually breaking any rules?
  2. Who or what enforces the rules in this story?
  3. Do you think Bartleby operates under his own set of rules? If so, what might they be?

Chew on This

Though Bartleby is the most glaring example, all of the characters we encounter in this story transgress and break certain social rules.

By ultimately killing Bartleby, Melville demonstrates his skepticism regarding the modern emphasis on individuality over conventional social organization.

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