Bartleby, the Scrivener

Walls Symbol Icon

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 Bartleby, the Scrivener quotes below all refer to the symbol of Walls. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Passive Resistance Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of Bartleby, the Scrivener published in 2016.
Bartleby, the Scrivener Quotes

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.

Related Characters: The Lawyer (speaker), Bartleby
Related Symbols: Walls
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

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Walls Symbol Timeline in Bartleby, the Scrivener

The timeline below shows where the symbol Walls appears in Bartleby, the Scrivener. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Bartleby, the Scrivener
The Disconnected Workplace Theme Icon
Isolation and the Unreliability of Language Theme Icon
Charity and Its Limits Theme Icon
...describes his office. It is bookended by two windows, one that looks upon the white wall of a skylight shaft, and the other that grants an “unobstructed view of a lofty... (full context)
The Disconnected Workplace Theme Icon
Isolation and the Unreliability of Language Theme Icon
...doors, away from the other scriveners, but near a window that looks out onto the walls of two tall buildings. The Lawyer also puts up a “high green folding screen” that... (full context)
Passive Resistance Theme Icon
The Disconnected Workplace Theme Icon
Charity and Its Limits Theme Icon
...the fact that he stands looking out his window (with a view of a brick wall) for long periods, that he never drinks beer, never leaves the office to eat or... (full context)
Passive Resistance Theme Icon
The Disconnected Workplace Theme Icon
Isolation and the Unreliability of Language Theme Icon
...The Lawyer notices that Bartleby has done “nothing but stand at his window in his dead-wall reverie.” When The Lawyer asks him why, Bartleby replies that he has decided on no... (full context)
The Disconnected Workplace Theme Icon
Isolation and the Unreliability of Language Theme Icon
Charity and Its Limits Theme Icon
...(The Other Lawyer) arrives to ask whether The Lawyer has recently vacated an office on Wall Street. The Lawyer replies that he has, and this Other Lawyer says that The Lawyer... (full context)
Passive Resistance Theme Icon
The Disconnected Workplace Theme Icon
Isolation and the Unreliability of Language Theme Icon
Charity and Its Limits Theme Icon
...finds Bartleby, he is standing alone in the quietest yard, “his face towards a high wall,” while the eyes of murderers and thieves peer down on him from the slits in... (full context)
Passive Resistance Theme Icon
The Disconnected Workplace Theme Icon
Charity and Its Limits Theme Icon
...to dine today,” as it would disagree with him. Then Bartleby walks over to a “dead-wall” and stands in front of it. (full context)
Passive Resistance Theme Icon
Isolation and the Unreliability of Language Theme Icon
Charity and Its Limits Theme Icon
...The Lawyer returns to the prison, and finds Bartleby asleep in the yard, surrounded by walls “of amazing thickness.” Bartleby is huddled at the base of a wall, his knees drawn... (full context)