In Herman Melville's short story "Bartleby," there is a motif of the power of communication, or lack thereof. Although the narrator is the protagonist of this story, the man he hires to be his scrivener, Bartleby becomes the most important example of the effect communication can have. At many points in the story, Bartleby's communication skills are proven to be odd. The reader realizes through these examples that Bartleby is unable to communicate or even understand those around him sufficiently. Bartleby's lack of communication serves as both his greatest and most detrimental attribute.
Bartleby's inability to communicate with others actually benefitted him in many ways. For instance, it allowed Bartleby to keep his job. First, Bartleby's odd qualities were one of the reasons he was hired for his job and one of the reasons his boss trusted him. He was praised for his tireless work ethic in copying, and was diligent, quiet and out of the way, all of which made him optimal for the position he was hired to. The lawyer also stated, "I had a singular confidence in his honesty. I felt my most precious papers perfectly safe in his hands" (Melville 20). It can be presumed that Bartleby's blunt and honest demeanor left the lawyer with the impression that Bartleby could be trusted. Bartleby's odd behavior also allowed him to keep his job when he otherwise might have been fired. Bartleby "preferred" not to do the examining of his own or anyone else's writings, something that was necessary to his job. Usually, this would lead to his termination from the position, but it was Bartleby's odd communication that saved him. The simplistic, impartial response that he would prefer not to, coupled with him showing practically no body language whatsoever had essentially confused the lawyer. The lawyer states, "had there been anything ordinarily human about him, doubtless I should have violently dismissed him from the premises" (Melville 13).