Second essay: quotations

What not to do:

The narrator introduces himself, “I am a rather elderly man” (641), and then sets up his tale of Bartleby. “I believe that no materials exist for a full and satisfactory biography of this man” (641). The narrator is prone to speaking around his subject, as “But this is by the way” (642). It is difficult to bring Bartleby into focus.

–> These sentences move on too quickly and assume that a quotation speaks for itself. The second quotation is neither set up by nor integrated into your own sentence; it has been left hanging in space.

–> Below is a more effective way to set up, integrate, and comment on quotations. Notice that right after the long first quotation, I return to the actual words of that quotation, and interpret what I see there.

What to do:

The narrator begins by declaring that his age goes hand in hand with his wisdom and special knowledge: “I am a rather elderly man. The nature of my avocations for the last thirty years has brought me into more than ordinary contact with what would seem an interesting and somewhat singular set of men, of whom as yet nothing that I know of has ever been written:—I mean the law-copyists or scriveners” (641). His “more than ordinary contact” with this “singular set of men” doubles the exceptional nature of his tale because both he and his subjects are beyond the ordinary and the common. Bartleby, then, triples the exceptionalism, but also introduces uncertainty into the narrator’s set up: “I believe that no materials exist for a full and satisfactory biography of this man” (641). The lawyer, then, goes on to trade an empty biography for a “satisfactory” one—his own.


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