The narrator is a prudent and methodical lawyer, who never reveals his name, possessor of a legal office that requires the help of four scribes and copyists. His business describes him as a model of routine operations and for the storyteller owner there do not seem to be any challenges or problems to fulfill his activity. The discreet and paternal personality of this narrator deserves bewilderment, as his behavior is quite erratic; it’s even a very suitable pair for the maddening Bartleby. Treats him as the prophet who is the only one able to glimpse the original (virginal, almost celestial) trait of the scribe, at the same time, who is a traitor with guilt for his inability to overcome the challenge received.
The characterization offers a special difficulty, because the text offers a story about someone who does not know enough and also there is nothing relevant to do. The lawyer narrator meets the clerk for a job offer and accepts it without asking anything important; then it does not make references to its origin and background. Then he draws a writer without trajectory or ambitions, food, impervious to the passions and amusements, without love or nostalgia, staring behind the window, without going out into the street, or pretending to gain advantages, without projects or grudges, without family or friends . In the beginning he is an exemplary employee, too hard working but silent and with an air of perpetual sadness, reserved and not at all conflictive until the mechanism of conflict in the narrative is unleashed and his conversion into a protagonist of inaction.
In this story we must feel tenderness and compassion for the scribe; his maladaptive acts are explained by a disease of the spirit, but a childish air that invites protection appears. This character is made in a period before the use of mental illness for an easy explanation. On this hypothesis of the behavior of “poor Bartleby” the story is very consistent, but allows the reader to accompany the narrator in his constant bewilderment in front of a simple refusal that repeats without stopping: “I would prefer not to do it”. From the point of view of the inactive subject, inaction is a kind of imprisonment of the being.
But Bartleby has the coherence that we lack. Take the step that we avoid: stop doing what we prefer not to do. It takes its consequent passivity to the limit. It does not renounce anything: it excludes what it does not want, even if it is a deadly preference. Could it be said that Bartleby dies because of his nihilism? Believing in nothingness would still be a peculiar form of belief: that which raises a radical distrust of the desire to live.
The protagonist of this collective history, however, seems to move below that threshold: he does not want to live; he is trapped by a nullity that affects his daily life, in the empty center of his being. Therefore, death appears here as liberation; a way to build an exit