Barlteby the Scrivner: Character Profiles

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Bartleby

Neat, respectable, forlorn, the silent and strange scrivener Bartleby is hired by a Wall Street lawyer. Nothing is known of his origin, though he previously worked in the Dead Letter Office in Washington. His main response to anything asked of him is “I would prefer not to.” He is a mystery to the narrator, who does not know what to do with this sort of passive resistance. Bartleby is not violent but makes the narrator feel guilty and somehow responsible for him. He cannot find out anything about his history, and he seems to have no relatives. He refuses the narrator’s help and when arrested as a vagrant, starves to death in prison.

Ginger Nut

Ginger Nut is the 12-year-old apprentice in the lawyer’s office. His father, a poor carman, wants his son to study law to escape the family poverty. The boy does errands and buys ginger-nuts as snacks for the other clerks.

Narrator

The narrator is an elderly Wall Street lawyer, “unambitious”, peaceful, but proud of his success and appointment as Master in Chancery. He handles the property of rich men like John Jacob Astor in his office with four other employees, and is well thought of in his profession. He seems a tolerant man, though somewhat conservative. He is haunted by his clerk Bartleby who will neither work nor quit him. Is he responsible for him? He makes a long case against Bartleby, excusing himself, and after trying to “help” him with money or some other job, washes his hands of him.

Nippers

Nippers is the 25-year-old well-dressed scrivener in the narrator’s law office. He is irritable in the morning but helpful in the afternoon. He receives visits from “clients,” some of whom seem to be bill collectors. He is ambitious, wanting to be the lawyer himself, composing documents instead of just copying. He is apparently irritable from indigestion. He moves his desk around, never comfortable or satisfied. He is called Nippers because of his fiery temperament.

Turkey

Turkey is the 60-year-old English scrivener in the narrator’s law office. He is only useful in the morning, making mistakes in the afternoon. He is short and plump. He is so poor and badly dressed, the lawyer gives him one of his own coats to wear. Called Turkey because of his flighty temperament, he ignores the suggestion he should retire.

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