BartlebyDo any of you scholars remember the brief tale of “Bartleby, the Scrivener”, by Herman Melville (he of “Moby Dick” fame)?

The narrator, an elderly, unnamed Manhattan lawyer with a comfortable business, relates the story of the strangest man he has known: Bartleby. At the start of his story the lawyer already employs two scriveners to copy legal documents by hand: Nippers and Turkey. An increase in business leads him to advertise for a third, and he hires the forlorn-looking Bartleby in the hope that his calmness will soothe the irascible temperaments of the other two.

At first, Bartleby produces a large volume of high-quality work. But one day, when asked to help proofread a document, Bartleby answers with what soon becomes his perpetual response to every request—”I would prefer not to.” To the dismay of the lawyer and to the irritation of the other employees, Bartleby performs fewer and fewer tasks, and eventually none. The narrator makes several futile attempts to reason with him and to learn something about him; and when he stops by the office unexpectedly, he discovers that Bartleby has started living there.

Sometimes life imitates art. As in this story.

NEW YORK (WABC) — A man is suing Costco for religious discrimination.

Must be another of those radical Christians!

He tells Eyewitness News exclusively that when he refused to work with pork…

No, I guess not a radical Christian. A Jew, do you suppose? But in any case, oh, please, somebody tell me he said “I would prefer not to.”

Anyway, the response…

… the major retailer sent him outside to gather carts.

Much as Bartleby’s employer attempted to set him to other tasks. Except…

Camara says he asked his managers if he could work in the electronics department, but his requests were repeatedly denied.

Sure, let everyone define his own job, that makes perfect sense. And if his name is indeed “Camara”, my gosh, he belongs in the electronics department. What sort of Islamophobic fiend would bar Mr. Camara from the camara, err, camera, department?

Unlike Bartleby, this guy didn’t move into Costco; instead…

He ended up filing a human rights complaint against the company.

Why move in when you can stay put and make the company pay your room and board and probably a lot more?

16 days later, he was fired for insubordinate conduct.

Yeah, this is what happens in the real world when you tell the boss “I would prefer not to”.

Bartleby suffered a different fate, perhaps because he was a fictional character who was somewhat sympathetic in spite of everything, and also was presumably mentally ill. Maybe this guy is a head case (we seem to see a lot of head cases these days), but he’s not a good head case. (There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a head case; I’m halfway there myself. But headcases that expect to be tolerated by the greater society ought to extend that same tolerance to the rest of us. The universe does not revolve around our egos.)

I’m curious how this will turn out. One would expect this guy would get laughed out of court. On the other hand, playing the Islam card seems to have a lot more traction than the Christian card at this moment in history.

This section is for comments from's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Tammy agrees with or endorses any particular comment just because she lets it stand.
2 Comments | Leave a comment
  1. Alain41 says:

    Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street. That was 1853, today it’s; Bartleby, the Elitist: A Story of the Destruction of Main Street.

    Obama, as President you must listen to the voters! He’d prefer not to.
    Boehner, as Speaker listen to the Republican conservative base! He’d prefer not to.
    McConnell, as Senate Leader scrap the filibuster to stop the unconstitutional amnesty! He’d prefer not to.
    Media, as Democracy’s watcher connect with your readers/viewers! They’d prefer not to.

    In the story, Bartleby dies of starvation because when it comes to eating, he’d prefer not to. It’s the reverse now because Bartlebys are everywhere in leadership positions, we’re the ones starving.

    • Alain41 says:

      Since Tammy is an author; one theory as to why Melville wrote Bartleby is that he got writer’s block while writing Moby Dick, 1851. MB was a commercial failure and his next novel, Pierre, 1852, was a total disaster. So he wrote a short story about his not being able to write. And to not be a starving writer.

      Melville’s last novel, Israel Potter, 1854, is considered middling but the history behind the story is fascinating.

      wikip: Israel Potter (1754–1826) was a real person born in Cranston, Rhode Island. According to his own account, a memoir titled The Life and Remarkable Adventures of Israel R. Potter (published 1824), he had been a veteran of the Battle of Bunker Hill, a sailor in the Revolutionary navy, a prisoner of the British, an escapee in England, a secret agent and courier in France, and a 45-year exile from his native land as a laborer, pauper, and peddler in London. Melville’s plot combines a number of Potter’s actual encounters—King George III, Horne Tooke, and Benjamin Franklin—with some he never had—Ethan Allen and John Paul Jones.

      (Symbolic, Israel was fighting for a fledgling America in our time of need.)

You must be logged in to post a comment.