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Food Motif in Bartleby the Scrivener Term Paper


Herman Melville contributed to several works of literature over the course of his career. One of these is “Bartleby the Scrivener”. A Wall Street lawyer who hires a man named Bartleby to work for him as a scrivener narrates this story. The narrator’s office has three other employees.

This short story is often considered as one of the more complicated works by the author. Although the story’s plot seems simple, it is difficult to interpret the themes and motifs in this story. This fact makes this story an interesting work of literature.

One of the most prominent motifs in this story is food. The author makes several food references throughout the story. This makes food one of the more obvious motifs in this story.

This paper will explore the use and significance of this motif. In addition, the paper will explain how this motif contributes towards the development of the story’s plot and themes.

The first statement the narrator utters when he discovers Bartleby is dead is that no one can live without dining. This assertion highlights the narrator’s concern over Bartleby’s refusal to consume food. Several of Bartleby’s behaviours perplex the narrator but his refusal to eat disturbs him the most.

The author uses this motif to portray that cannibalism is essential for survival of human beings. “Cannibals” dominated the Wall Street of the time. Bartleby seems to be protesting this trend but the results are tragic. There are two aspects of cannibalism, the diner, and the meal. Bartleby refused to be either of the two.

The food motif is also manifested in the naming of other characters in the story. Turkey and Ginger Nut are nicknames given to two of the employees in the narrator’s office. The narrator says that Turkey’s clothes smelt of eating-houses.

On the other hand, Ginger Nut is named after the most common snack in the lawyer’s office. The fact that an employee is named after a food item shows the significance food has in this office. The use of food nicknames implies that the employees are just fodder for this business.

The narrator’s business feeds on them for it to survive. Therefore, even though the employees are under the impression that they are consuming from the business, they are indeed being consumed.

The narrator vividly describes the appetite levels of his employees. Turkey and Nippers have a voracious longing for cakes and apples. To satisfy this need, the two are constantly sending Ginger Nut to fetch these items. This is why it is possible for the lawyer to assign these workers food related nicknames.

However, when Bartleby joins the team, the lawyer finds it difficult to compare him to his appetite because he does not seem to have any. He wonders how Bartleby survives because he does not even go to the diner. Bartleby’s lack of a prominent appetite makes it difficult for the narrator to understand him.

Consequently, this highlights the narrator’s appetite for understanding people according to their likings for certain foods. For instance, he argues that Bartley never went out to eat or drank beer like Turkey.

The food motif is very prominent in this story. The author seems to imply that people can be understood through their food consumption habits. The motif is also used to explain the cannibalistic nature of human beings. The effectiveness of this motif is unmistakable throughout the story.

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IvyPanda. (2019, April 19). Food Motif in Bartleby the Scrivener. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/food-motif-in-bartleby-the-scrivener-term-paper/

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"Food Motif in Bartleby the Scrivener." IvyPanda, 19 Apr. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/food-motif-in-bartleby-the-scrivener-term-paper/.

1. IvyPanda. "Food Motif in Bartleby the Scrivener." April 19, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/food-motif-in-bartleby-the-scrivener-term-paper/.


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IvyPanda. "Food Motif in Bartleby the Scrivener." April 19, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/food-motif-in-bartleby-the-scrivener-term-paper/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Food Motif in Bartleby the Scrivener." April 19, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/food-motif-in-bartleby-the-scrivener-term-paper/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Food Motif in Bartleby the Scrivener'. 19 April.

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