Herman Melville is now seen as one of the great figures in American literature, a man who expanded the role of the novel and gave new and complex depths to the meaning of a story. His best work uses the form of the novel or the story as a means of carrying and discussing concerns about the nature of humanity, the role of God, and a sometimes satiric, sometimes bitter, examination of colonialism and capitalism. All of these are evident in the three stories included here, but his decision to write shorter fiction was to some extent forced on him.
Bartleby the Scrivener, The Lightning-Rod Man, and The Bell-Tower were all originally published in Putnam's Monthly Magazine and collected together with three other stories in The Piazza Tales of 1856 (the title came from the only piece written especially for the collection, an introductory sketch called The Piazza). Despite the circumstances that made him turn to the shorter form, Melville enjoyed the technical challenges it posed, and he regarded many of his short stories more highly than some of his successful longer works. But they were just as loaded with allegory, symbolism, and unease at man's condition.
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