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The immortal ' I prefer not to ',
This review is from: Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street (The Art of the Novella series) (Paperback)
Bartleby is the story of one of the great ' naysayers' of Literature. But unlike Dostoevsky's ' Underground Man' he does not scream out his 'nay' in curses. His 'nay 'is quiet. " I prefer not to" . A much more romantic American adolescent naysayer Holden Caulfield will captivate readers also by saying to society, the world, the system of conventions that all are subject to, nay and nay again.
The outcast, the loner, the naysayer is of course one great archetypal figure of world and most especially American Literature.
Bartleby belongs among them.
And the fact that neither he nor the narrator nor the author fully articulate the ' root of his nay' adds in a way to the mystery and mystique of the character.
There is it seems to many of us something admirable in those who can turn away from the demands of ordinary society, and listen to the sound of their own drummer.
But what is maddening and absurd in Bartleby is that he does not seem to do this for anything special. He gives no hint that this ' nay ' gives him personal satisfaction. His withdrawal seems impersonal .And it seems a reflection of his own feeling about himself which is ' nay' Or on another interpretation it might be said that his saying ' I prefer not to' is the only way in which he preserves a vestige in his own identity.
Clearly there are many ways of reading this. But this is an exemplary tale, of course enriched by Melville's descriptions of the office world of the time, by his masterful language and humor.
One of the great long - short stories, or if you will, short novels. A masterwork without question.