Read the following passage from “Bartleby” carefully. Then choose literary devices employed in the passage from the bulleted list below and explicate it: explain the significance of the feature (a) in the passage and (b) in the story “Bartleby” as a whole. Read through the board first. Do not write on the same topic as a classmate.


[following the scene quoted in the previous board, the following exchange among the characters take place during the work week]

Just then the folding-doors opened, and Nippers approached. He seemed suffering from an unusually bad night’s rest, induced by severer indigestion than common. He overheard those final words of Bartleby.

“Prefer not, eh?” gritted Nippers—”I’d prefer him, if I were you, sir,” addressing me—”I’d prefer him; I’d give him preferences, the stubborn mule! What is it, sir, pray, that he prefers not to do now?”

Bartleby moved not a limb.

“Mr. Nippers,” said I, “I’d prefer that you would withdraw for the present.”

Somehow, of late I had got into the way of involuntarily using this word “prefer” upon all sorts of not exactly suitable occasions. And I trembled to think that my contact with the scrivener had already and seriously affected me in a mental way. And what further and deeper aberration might it not yet produce? This apprehension had not been without efficacy in determining me to summary means.

As Nippers, looking very sour and sulky, was departing, Turkey blandly and deferentially approached.

“With submission, sir,” said he, “yesterday I was thinking about Bartleby here, and I think that if he would but prefer to take a quart of good ale every day, it would do much towards mending him, and enabling him to assist in examining his papers.”

“So you have got the word too,” said I, slightly excited.

“With submission, what word, sir,” asked Turkey, respectfully crowding himself into the contracted space behind the screen, and by so doing, making me jostle the scrivener. “What word, sir?”

“I would prefer to be left alone here,” said Bartleby, as if offended at being mobbed in his privacy.

“That’s the word, Turkey,” said I—”that’s it.”

“Oh, prefer? oh yes—queer word. I never use it myself. But, sir, as
I was saying, if he would but prefer—”

“Turkey,” interrupted I, “you will please withdraw.”

“Oh certainly, sir, if you prefer that I should.”


Word choice (diction, connotation)
Sentence structure (paratactic (noun verb construction usually short), hypotactic (lots of subordination; main noun and main verb may be far apart)
Punctuation (especially dashes, exclamation points)
Apophasis (use of negation)
Gaps (omissions)
Figurative language (metaphor, simile, metonymy)
Point of view (who tells the story, what does the narration reveal about the teller, what might the teller not see or know)
EXAMPLE: see previous board for example
REPLY POST: Due Wed., 2/24: read through your classmates posts. Choose one classmate’s interpretation and add to it by noting some additional analysis of the feature they identify or something else in the passage that might relate. Don’t write “good point.” Add to our understanding by quoting and explaining something about that line of text.

Tara Buettner:
I find that the punctuation used in this passage helps to convey the tone of the piece. For example, when Nippers is frustrated with Bartleby’s refusal to partake in office life, the author conveys this with the use of dashes. This is particularly impactful in the lines “Prefer not, eh?” gritted Nippers—”I’d prefer him, if I were you, sir,” addressing me—”I’d prefer him; I’d give him preferences, the stubborn mule! What is it, sir, pray, that he prefers not to do now?”. The dashes help to convey Nipper’s angry and abrupt tone. Also, while not strictly punctuation, Melville’s decision to italicize the word “prefer” shows that Nippers is being sarcastic. These choices align well with how Nippers’s character is described by the lawyer, and help to demonstrate the overwhelming tension that is building in the office.