Herman Melville wrote Bartleby the Scrivener as an emotional response to the fact that his masterpiece Moby-Dick was not selling as well as he had expected. The work is said to have been inspired, in part, by Melville's reading of Emerson, and some have pointed to specific parallels to Emerson's essay, The Transcendentalist.
Although the story was not very popular at the time it was published, Bartleby the Scrivener has become among the most famous American short stories. It has been considered a precursor to absurdist literature, touching on many of the themes extant in the work of Franz Kafka, particularly in The Trial and A Hunger Artist. However, there exists nothing to indicate that the German-language writer was at all familiar with Melville, who was largely forgotten until after Kafka's death.