Why do you think Melville chose to subtitle this story “A Story of Wall Street”?

Benito Cereno” (which I teach in my ENGL 296 class). After a cynical, psychological exploration
of con artistry and human gullibility in his novel The Confidence-Man, Melville spent the remaining
decades of his life in relative obscurity, writing mostly poetry. Before his death in 1891 he
completed the novella Billy Budd, a complex tale of irony, ambiguity, satire, and affirmation that
wasnt discovered and published until three decades later, sparking a “Melville revival” that has
lasted until this day. Melville is among the most studied of American authors because of his
complex symbolism, brooding depths of philosophical and psychological thought, and intense
narrative ability.
“Bartleby, the Scrivener” is perhaps Melvilles finest short story. “Bartleby” has social, financial,
and political resonance, of course, but it also anticipates, with darkly Dickensian ironic humor, the
absurdity, alienation, and poignancy revealed by existentialism a century later. “There it is,” the story
suggests about futility, despair, death. Yes, there it is. I think about the “No Trespassing” sign
hanging on the fence surrounding the Kane mansion in Orson Welless cinematic masterpiece Citizen
Kane. The great and the small, and the nothing at all. I agree with literary critic Martin Scofield that
“Bartleby” is one of the worlds greatest short stories, if only for that reason. Besides, its impressive
to agree with somebody like Martin Scofield.
to agree with somebody like Martin Scofield.
You might think about why Melville chose to narrate his story through this particular first-person
narrator, with his sundry humors, sympathies, and limitations, and what is suggested about the
narrator, his world, and ourselves. And please dont tell me that you would prefer not to!
Discussion Questions:
1. Why is “Bartleby, the Scrivener” narrated this way? What is the first-person narrator like? How
does he influence the way we view Bartleby?
2. Why do you think Melville chose to subtitle this story “A Story of Wall Street”? How do walls
figure actually and symbolically in this narrative? What do they suggest about Bartleby and his life?
3. How do you regard the rather Dickensian minor characters in this story–Turkey, Nippers, and
Ginger Nut? How do they influence the way we look at this story and Bartleby?
4. The ending is profound and moving. What might this story be suggesting through this ending?

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