The full title of Herman Melville’s short story is “Bartleby the Scrivener; a story of Wall Street.” Published in 1853 about a clerk who was employed to copy legal documents before machanical copying machines were invented, the employer is not a financier, but a lawyer. Still, the attribution to Wall Street deserves consideration. Was it, even then, a place full of people who prefer not to do anything, to be idle while others work. Was the employer unable to refute the scrivener because, he too, preferred not doing anything and didn’t?
In the twenty-first Century, we have a whole political party of many millions who either do nothing or would prefer not to do anything. The Party of No. They would have us believe that just saying “no” is a virtue. “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” was even proposed as a worth while elaboration. Is it nihilism or just an excuse for being lazy?
If the addition of force transforms virtue into vice, can we conclude that sloth serves to turn vice into virtue? Does the binary mode invite perversion?
“Moby Dick” was not about the whale. So, can we suggest that “Bartleby the Scrivener; a story of Wall Street,” is about neither the clerk nor his place of employment? Perhaps both are about male attitudes, either driven by wrath or sloth?
Clearly, they are not about women. So much of American literature is not about women, despite the fact that women were reputed to have invented fiction.