Walls serve to create boundaries, and they disconnect people throughout the narrative of Bartleby, the Scrivener. The Lawyer’s office is separated into two rooms by a ground-glass folding door: one room where The Lawyer works and one in which his scriveners work. When Bartleby is hired, The Lawyer places him inside his own office, but he installs a “folding screen” (basically a temporary wall) so that The Lawyer cannot see Bartleby and Bartleby cannot see him. Not only that, but the spot where The Lawyer stations Bartleby has a window that used to look out onto back yards, but now, because of the construction of new buildings, the window only looks out onto a brick wall.
Beyond the office’s layout, the very name of the street on which the office is located, Wall Street, symbolizes the disconnected isolation within. The office’s address is never actually written out in the story; instead it is always written in the format “No. – Wall Street.” By keeping the office address vague, the office itself comes to stand in for all of Wall Street, implying that the disconnection apparent in The Lawyer’s office is in fact characteristic of the entirety of New York’s business sector.
By the story’s end, walls take on an even more menacing quality, as when Bartleby is shipped off to prison, he is held not in a cell, but in the courtyard in the prison’s very center, surrounded by walls of extreme thickness. Although he is alone in this huge yard, which would itself serve as a symbol of disconnected isolation, The Lawyer notes (when he visits Bartleby) that he can see the eyes of all the thieves and murderers who are locked away in their cells peering down on Bartleby. So, although Bartleby can see other human beings and they can see him through the cracks in the walls, the walls themselves serve to disconnect and isolate these felons from each other, much how the walls in The Lawyer’s office separated Bartleby from the other employees and The Lawyer himself. The walls, then, come to symbolize not just the disconnection on Wall Street, but the disconnection that is a part of human life.
Walls Quotes in Bartleby, the Scrivener
The yard was entirely quiet. It was not accessible to the common prisoners. The surrounding walls, of amazing thickness, kept off all sounds behind them. The Egyptian character of the masonry weighed upon me with its gloom. But a soft imprisoned turf grew underfoot. The heart of the eternal pyramids, it seemed, wherein, by some strange magic, through the lefts, grass-seed, dropped by birds, had sprung.