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Symbols in Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street

Symbols Examples in Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street:

Bartleby, the Scrivener

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"glass folding-doors divided my premises into two parts, one of which was occupied by my scriveners, the other by myself...."   (Bartleby, the Scrivener)

During the 1840s and 1850s, New York City was the site of many class disputes between the wealthy upper classes and the low-wage working class. There were strict divisions socially and economically between the rich and the poor. The “folding doors” that divides the lawyer’s office is symbolic of these class divisions and the alienation these divisions cause between the classes. Notice that as he describes his office, the lawyer’s light-hearted tone suggests that he does not recognize the symbolic division of his workers.

"that for long periods he would stand looking out, at his pale window behind the screen, upon the dead brick wall;..."   (Bartleby, the Scrivener)

One of Bartleby’s most perplexing behaviors is his tendency to stare outside his window at the wall just outside. The lawyer characterizes it as “the dead brick wall.” In previous passages the wall symbolizes isolation and lack of communication. Here the wall can be seen as additionally symbolizing blankness and meaninglessness. Just as the lawyer tries to make sense of the baffling Bartleby, Bartleby himself studies the ineffable brick wall, struggling in vain to make sense of it.

"Yes, Bartleby, stay there behind your screen, thought I; I shall persecute you no more..."   (Bartleby, the Scrivener)

Once again the lawyer makes a point of isolating Bartleby behind a screen, or wall. While the lawyer considers Bartleby “harmless and noiseless” in this space, he fails to recognize the effects of such isolation. By placing walls between them, the lawyer prohibits any opportunity for human connection and understanding.

"I procured a high green folding screen, which might entirely isolate Bartleby from my sight..."   (Bartleby, the Scrivener)

Screens and walls perform an important symbolic role throughout the narrative. The lawyer intentionally isolates Bartleby with a large screen, essentially disconnecting Bartleby from the office environment and from the lawyer. Notice how walls and screens continue to accompany points in the narrative where connection and understanding are blocked off.

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