EN 209 Lecture Notes - Lecture 27: Ginger Nut, Nipper, Nippers

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Bartleby the Scrivener
Herman Melville
- This is a satire of Wall Street.
-Scrivener - a person who manually copied legal documents (human copy machine)
- Melville states that there would be a sequel but we know that he never actually intends to
write a second part.
“I would prefer not to.”
Bartleby just keeps refusing to do any of his given work tasks.
This is an obvious quote to remember!
Big Idea:
- The lawyer’s reactions are just as important as Bartleby’s behavior. The lawyer at least
tries to understand Bartleby, but the other employees get annoyed because they feel like
Bartleby should just be fired immediately. The lawyer has a high need for cognition and
wants to know why Bartleby is so odd.
“I am a rather elderly man… I have known very many of them… and if I pleased, could relate
divers histories… But I waive the biographies of all other scriveners for a few passages in the life
of Bartleby, who was a scrivener the strangest I ever saw or heard of” (1469).
The narrator has many stories, but the one he wants to tell the most is that of Bartleby.
At the period just preceding the advent of Bartleby, I had two personas as copyists in my
employment, and a promising lad as an office-boy. First, Turkey; second, Nippers; third, Ginger
Nut… In truth they were nicknames, mutually conferred upon each other by my three clerks, and
were deemed expressive of their respective persons” (1470).
The nickname Turkey is used as an affectionate put-down (you still care about the person
but they are being a goof).
The nickname Nippers refers to the old-fashioned term nip , which is the way you’re
supposed to drink hard liquor (a small sip). So, Nipper , frequently drinks alcohol and
usually keeps his flask with him.
The nickname Ginger Nut is used for the errand boy (today, this is equivalent to the office
intern). While he’s out running errands, he likes to stop and buy a snack of hot ginger nuts
from street vendors.
“‘Bartleby,’ said I, ‘Ginger Nut is away; just step round to the Post Office, won’t you? (it was but a
three minutes walk,) and see if there is any thing for me.’ ‘I would prefer not to.’ ‘You will not?’ ‘I
prefer not’... ‘Bartleby!’ No answer. ‘Bartleby,’ in a louder tone. No answer. ‘Bartleby,’ I roared…
intimidating the unalterable purpose of some terrible retribution very close at hand” (1479).
The difference is that prefer is more passive.
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