West Chester University

Spring 2003

West Chester University

Fall 2002

Spring 2002

Fall 2001





Course Information
  WRT 120 Syllabus
  Lit 165 Syllabus
  About the Instructor

Notes for Introduction to Literature
  Fundamental Questions About Literature
  Critical Approaches to Literature
  Approaching Literature
  Critical Thinking and Reading Literature
  Notes on Four Short Stories
  Defining the Short Story
  The Genesis of the Short Story
  The Art of the Short Story
  Responding to 'The Birthmark'
  Notes on Nathaniel Hawthorne
  A Guided Reading of 'Bartleby'
  'Bartleby--Questions for Analysis
  A Cultural Context for 'Bartleby'
  A Vocabulary for Fiction and Beyond
  Notes on Innovative Fiction
  Young Man on Sixth Avenue
  A Study Guide for the Fiction Exam
  Defining Poetry
  Reading Poetry
  The Craft of Poetry: Imagery
  Supplemental Poems
  The Craft of Poetry: Sound
  The Craft of Poetry: Structure
  Lines of Continuity
  Study Guide for the Poetry Exam
  The Birth of Greek Tragedy
  Stepping Through OEDIUPS THE KING
  Aristotle's 'Tragic Hero'
  Questions for Studying OEDIUPS
  The Relevance of OEDIPUS Today
  Study Guide for the Drama Exam

Notes for Effective Writing I
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'

  John Gardner

Announcements and Assignments
  WRT 120 Announcements
  WRT 120 Assignments
  LIT 165 Announcements
  Lit 165 Assignments


Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Weblog for LIT 165
  Writing Assistance on the Web

Join an Online Forum
  WRT 120 Composition Forum
  LIT 165 Introduction to Literature Forum

~~ "Bartleby the Scrivener" — Questions for Analysis ~~

One way it's easy to tell we're in the presence of a great, rich fascinating story is that there's potentially so much to discuss. In addition to all of the background material I'd like to share with you, we could easily pick any of these topics and spend quite a bit of time hashing them around, picking their fruits.


  • Protagonist / Antagonist? — What is the Boss up against in the person of Bartleby? Does Bartleby represent a force beyond himself as an individual?
  • Major / Minor — Who are the major players in the story? What do we know about them? Are they likable? Sympathetic? Realistic? What's the function of the story's vivid minor characters?
  • Dynamic / Static — Who changes? Who stays the same? Is the story about growth or change?
  • Round / Flat — Who is the round character? Who are the flat characters?

Point of view

  • Who tells the story? — We have a first person narrator, who is flawed but human ... He's reliable, we trust him. His actions definitely support what he tells us about himself; especially the part about being a man who likes to take the "easy" way. What else is gained by telling this story from the Boss's perspective? Why not Bartleby's perspective? Why not one of the other clerks? How would the substance of the story differ if it was told from some other perspective?


  • Exposition — What background information does the narrator relate that gives us a greater understanding of the events unfolding? Why does the information about Bartleby's previous employment come at the end of the story rather than at the beginning?
  • Complication — How does the Boss react when Bartleby repeatedly refuses to perform his duties? How does his reaction intensify? What is the Boss's dilemma?
  • Climax — Where do you feel the events reach their pinnacle? Where is the conflict most intense, the clash most "explosive"?
  • Resolution — What's the outcome of the explosion?
  • Epiphany — Who has gained insight in this story, Bartleby or the Boss, or anybody?

Meaning (Theme)

  • Despair is a deadly foe.
  • A person needs dignity to survive despair.
  • Human beings cannot "control" one another without disastrous consequences.
  • Dehumanizing work can kill the soul.
  • Passive resistance is a radical form of rebellion.
  • Offices, where Americans spend the greater part of their lives, are not democracies.
  • Have a life outside work! Don't expect your occupation to bear the burden of your existence.
  • much more!


  • The Boss doesn't recognize that his own passiveness is as persistent and frustrating as Bartleby's. Or that his genteel, self-interested interest in Bartleby is leading to no good.
    The Boss' kindnesses are in some ways cruelties.


  • Bartleby is stubborn, self-absorbed, rebellious, and insubordinate, yet many readers, and even the narrator, the Boss himself, have a deep sympathy for him. Why?


  • Exactly why does Bartleby always "prefer not to"? Why can't he make friends, or communicate? What's at the heart of his rebellion? Why doesn't he quit and get a different job?
  • Why does the Boss have sympathy for Bartleby?


  • What do the "dead walls" and Bartleby's "dead wall reveries" represent?
  • What's the significance of the setting? Why is it a "story of Wall Street"?
  • Why do Turkey and Nipper have nicknames, but the Boss doesn't, and we never learn Bartleby's first name? What's in a name?







Questions? Contact me.

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