Although Herman Melville is best remembered for his whaling epic Moby Dick, many middle-school children are faced with the task of reading and writing essays about another one of his popular stories, “Bartleby The Scrivener.” If your child is one of these kids, here are a few tips you can share with them on how to write a great essay about this intriguing story.

Read the Story Carefully (and with Help)

Herman Melville is known for having difficult and dense prose, but “Bartleby the Scrivener” is relatively easy to understand, which is why it’s so often used in middle school. Most middle-school children should be able to read it without much difficulty, though it isn’t a bad idea for them to use a reading guide during the process.

As your child reads, they should look for important details and recurring themes. For example, it is important to note that Bartleby prefers spending time alone and seems to have no existence outside of the office. This type of information is important to note in a great essay.

Pinpoint the Important Themes

Great stories almost always have themes, and Herman Melville usually makes his themes pretty obvious. The theme of the story is the idea that the author is trying to communicate. For example, in “Bartleby the Scrivener,” Melville is communicating themes of loneliness, isolation, and the negative effects of the business life of a person’s mental health.

If your child is struggling to understand these themes, talk with them about why Bartleby “would prefer not to” do extra work and the frustrations this causes for his boss. Pinpoint instances where Bartleby spends time alone or how he gets more isolated as the story continues. These kinds of details are important for a successful essay, as they add supporting evidence.

Arrange the Ideas in a Logical Way

Once your child has identified three major themes that drive the story, it is important to arrange them in a logical fashion. The five-paragraph essay outline is often a useful way for children to arrange their ideas. This outline includes an introduction that discusses the themes, a paragraph for each theme, and a conclusion paragraph that ties it all together.

For example, the essay could start with a paragraph discussing Bartleby’s sense of isolation, the way he asserts his independence, and the negative side effects of his work. Each paragraph should start with a sentence identifying the theme and include details which support it, such as information about Bartleby’s refusal to do extra work or his life inside of the office.

With these simple steps, your child can fully understand the quixotic nature of Bartleby and write a great essay. Whether they are writing it for class or an essay-writing contests, such as one of the Creative Communication teen essay contests, this essay will be one that they can be proud to show off.