Allusion in Bartleby the Scrivener, A Tale of Wall Street

Allusion Examples in Bartleby the Scrivener, A Tale of Wall Street:

Bartleby, the Scrivener 9

"With kings and counselors..."   (Bartleby, the Scrivener)

This is a biblical quote from Job 3:14. In the passage, Job wishes for death. With this reference, the lawyer suggests that Bartleby is resting with all of those who have died before him. It also situates his death within a Western, Christian tradition.

"pillar of salt..."   (Bartleby, the Scrivener)

This is an allusion to Genesis 19:26 in the Old Testament. In this book, God passes divine judgement on the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Two angels come to Lot and his wife and tell them to flee for their lives before God’s wrath descends. They command them to not look back on the burning city. However, as they flee, Lot’s wife looks upon Sodom and is turned into a pillar of salt. This phrase has become a metaphor which indicates the manner in which one becomes frozen in place when confronted with something shocking.

"become a millstone..."   (Bartleby, the Scrivener)

A millstone is a heavy rock used to grind grain. This is an allusion to the biblical passage Matthew 18:6 in which Jesus claimed that it was better to hang a millstone around one’s neck than to offend a child. Within this allusion, the narrator suggests that he is a type of martyr who has hung a millstone around his neck, the millstone being Bartleby.

"there was the rub..."   (Bartleby, the Scrivener)

This is an allusion to the famous “To be, or not to be” speech from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In the speech, Hamlet asks “To die, to sleep, / To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there's the rub, / for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come.” His contemplation of death, sleep, and dreams has become a universal symbol for something that is difficult, dangerous, or hard to understand in Western culture.

"“A new commandment give I unto you, that ye love one another.”..."   (Bartleby, the Scrivener)

This is a Biblical quote from John 13:34. Adam is the Biblical character who was thrown out of Eden for eating an apple from the tree of knowledge. Here, the lawyer figures his conscience as his pious self versus a more self-serving self akin to Adam. He uses this quote to guide himself back towards the “righteous” response to Bartleby. This is an example of how the lawyer sees himself in a Christian framework and attempts to guide his actions by Christian morals.

"In plain fact, he had now become a millstone to me, not only useless as a necklace, but afflictive to bear...."   (Bartleby, the Scrivener)

A millstone is a heavy stone used to grind grain. This passage is a biblical allusion to the Book of Matthew, 18:6, in which Jesus claims that one who draws a child into sin ought to have a millstone hung about his neck.

"A fraternal melancholy! For both I and Bartleby were sons of Adam...."   (Bartleby, the Scrivener)

In this passage, the lawyer reflects on the biblical book of Genesis as he considers his relationship with Bartleby. The lawyer envisions himself and Bartleby as “sons of Adam.” In Genesis, Adam’s sons are Cain and Abel. After Cain murders Abel in a fit of jealousy, he asks God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The lawyer’s empathy for Bartleby, his sense that he is Bartleby’s keeper, evokes a deep feeling of “fraternal melancholy.”

"I should have as soon thought of turning my pale plaster-of-paris bust of Cicero out of doors...."   (Bartleby, the Scrivener)

The lawyer alludes here to Cicero, the ancient Roman politician, of whom he owns a plaster sculpture. The lawyer cites the sculpture as an object that is, like Bartleby himself, cold and inhuman. The comparison is strange in that Cicero was a figure known for his powerful persona and bold speaking style, qualities which Bartleby does not possess.

"I cannot credit that the mettlesome poet Byron would have contentedly sat down with Bartleby to examine a law document..."   (Bartleby, the Scrivener)

Melville alludes to the famous Romantic-era poet Lord George Gordon Byron, known for his energetic and passionate personality. The lawyer imagines Byron’s fiery verse to be the opposite of the dull, arduous writing scriveners like Bartleby do.