Literature and History: The Development of American Culture to 1865


Paradise of Bachelors & Tartarus of Maids

Melville’s Paradise of Bachelors and Tartarus of Maids is a paradox of two environments existing side by side with the same narrator.  What stood out most while reading were the striking differences in how the narrator described both environments’ physical traits and how they relate to each other.  The Paradise of Bachelors is described in detail as a lush, decadent place with a glowing or warming feeling about the atmosphere.  Where the bachelors live is expressed as the ultimate paradise.  To be a bachelor, according to this text, means that a man lives this carefree indulgent life without responsibilities of domestic life like having a wife or children.  Basically if the men did not have such domestic duties, he lives a great life.  On the contrary, when the narrator describes his journey to the paper mill, he accounts of a very different atmosphere than what he had noted in Paradise of Bachelors.  He travels in intensely harsh blizzard conditions, riding through treacherous areas of the woods and deep valleys.  He finally comes upon a large white-washed building seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  He is then overpowered by the environment he sees when he goes inside- rows upon rows of zombie like girls making paper.  The narrator describes them as, “Blank-looking counters sat rows of blank-looking girls, with blank, white folders in their blank hands, all blankly folding paper.”  The blank paper symbolizes how frighteningly empty the girls are, they seem to be robbed of what makes them human.  The slave like labor in which the narrator describes makes the reader think that there is something else very frightening going on, like that of a horror movie.  The irony between the bachelors and the maids is that the source of much of the paper they make comes from old clothes/rags from the bachelors.  Melville expresses the economic reality between both environments.  The maids make the paradise for the bachelors, and the bachelors make the tartarus/hell for the working women.  Although eerie, this text was quite an interesting read.  I really liked how Melville related the two texts together yet created two entirely different environments while all making a pretty bold statement.  I feel that it was quite possible at this time, many bachelors could have lived like this and many unmarried women could have lived like this as well.


Narrative of the Life Of Frederick Douglass

“Written by himself”

This is such an important and meaningful addition to the title of Douglass’s narrative.  It shows readers that he, and only he wrote this narrative.  It  gives the reader proof that he wrote it.  To those that were doubtful of Douglass’s skills and capabilities, and doubted him because he was a slave, this sort of “sticks it to them”.  Frederick Douglass’s narrative is by far one of the best pieces of literature I have read.  The way in which he wrote his narrative can not help but affect the reader in a profound way.  There are a few strong themes/things that stood out to me while reading this narrative.  Throughout the story, Douglass tends to victimize female slaves and gives them all tragic cases instead of the male slaves.  The vivid and detailed descriptions and images that Douglass created of their abused and mangled  bodies truly brings out pain among readers. While I was reading these sections about slaves like Aunt Hester and how brutally their masters treated them,I had all the more intense feelings of outrage and hatred towards slavery.  While the whipping of Aunt Hester was Douglass’s first introduction to the realities of slavery,  reading about these treatments of slaves could have been many of the readers introduction to the realities of slavery, from a very personal and graphic level.

Another thing that stood out to me most in this story was how the slave masters/owners changed character over the course of time.  Like, for example, Douglass’s mistress in Baltimore,  became so irresponsible and abusive of her power that eventually changed her entire psyche.  Douglass communicated to the reader that even good white people are destroyed in moral character because of the power given to them.  This ultimately communicates that slavery is not meant to be, it is cruel and completely unnatural for not only the slave, but especially the slave holder.

Life in the Iron Mills

Sometimes I stay up all night to work on a project in school and I would take a coffee break every few hours to try to stay alive. My favorite coffee break is when it’s about 4 or 5 in the morning. The streets are not filled with cars and you could linger just a few seconds longer in the middle of the street and look down the avenue. In my own opinion the streets of New York looks the finest at this hour. There’s an early morning lightness and calmness to the city which seems to clear off all the modern character of it. The feeling in the air brings my imagination to the “old new york”. I brought this up because when I read “Life in the Iron MIlls” a certain characteristic of how I imagine the old new york rises. It looks a little bit like how New York looks like in the morning. It’s quieter but you know there’s life and energy. I think life in the city sometimes take away your focus and people around you all walk with their gazes on one thing. They don’t notice you. They forgot to look up or look around at beautiful buildings, the sky and how the lights reflects. The lack of presence of soul fills the air because we are all like robots set on one thing and never saw anything else better in life. I am trying to relate to the story of “life in the iron mills”. I think that is important because the narrator’s goal to to urge us to see that picture. That despair that comes from within these mills and hear the cries of the people that want to do more than just the mills. When I read “life in the Iron Mills” I am drawn more towards the character that encounter the mills and their reaction. We have the mills owner, a doctor and Mitchell. I understand the story is about Debra and Hugh’s depressing lives at  the mill but I am more interested in people that encounters the mill because you hardly get any sense of character from them in the story. In someway I feel like when the narrator describe Debra and Hugh they had more of a soul then when she described the others who encounters. I’m not sure if that’s a point or she is just trying to focus only on Debra and Hugh. However, I feel like there’s a connection. As the reader we feel somewhat alike with the encounters. The scary part is that we are less of a human than the people at the mill. Where’s our emotion? where’s our heart? and where’s our soul? It’s lost in this city that tells us we have to climb the ladder of success. We see only one goal and that fire inside our body burns away everything else to keep that one thing alive in our eyes. It’s makes us narrow in vision and can not see the possibilities that is around us. I find it saddening that the mill owner, the doctor and the mitchell could not relate to Hugh. To them, Hugh was just another person they saw, he was nothing but another person. However, there’s so much more to that than just another person. There’s life and a story. I read this story and I feel like something is banging in my heart telling me this is not just a story about the HISTORY. We are also history and if we don’t see the connection between this story and our lives I think we could all end up emotionless, walking in straight lines and souless without knowing it.

What Really Goes On …

I enjoyed reading “Life in the Mills” because not only does it depict how life was during the Industrial times for the poor, it is also a story that many people can relate to. In order for others to prosper, there has to be others doing work for him or her. If not, then there would be no growth in any way as all would be equal. The lives of these factory workers were horrendous for they had long hours with little pay whereas the owners wandered about freely. The lives of Deborah and Hugh was definitely a struggle from living day to day on paycheck to paycheck. The conditions were unsanitary but they had to do what they could to survive and for this, I really applaud them. They often had little to eat and still had the strength to keep living though in the end, it was not what they had dreamed of. I am currently reading a book, “Lost in Translation” by Jean Kwok and it can relate to Deborah and Hugh’s lives. There is a mother and daughter who immigrated to the United States in order to have better opportunities for the daughter and upon arriving here, it was not what they had expected. The house the mother’s sister rented to them was on the verge of being demolished and the insides were not the ideal living situation with mice and roaches roaming about. Despite these living conditions, the mother worked at a clothing factory where dust and other chemicals are in the air resulting in an unsafe working environment. At this time, child labor was banned but the daughter, Ah-Kim had to help her mother after school everyday and struggled to fit in to school. Working in the factory was difficult as they had to stay late to rush a shipment and being paid per garment was no way to survive. Each garment cost 2 cents and so, a train ride cost them a few hundred skirts. Meanwhile, the factory owner lived in a spacious house with a son who went to private school.


It just shows that in order for others to prosper, there has to be sacrifices made. It really is heartbreaking to read how people lived in those days and of course, it still happens today, in all industries. Our low prices = low wages for those in third world countries.

John Winthrop

I am an immigrant myself. I came to the state from Taiwan when I was 11. In my young mind I knew I was going to the land of opportunity and freedom. It was a place where I could dream and be whoever I wanted. It was the place to be. So when I read John Winthrop I was deeply amused by how “DIFFERENT” his idea of “America” would be to mine. He was a very serious person and he had a very serious idea of what would become of America. His speech to the Puritan I think was more restricting then being an Asian. It was morally restricting, not even physically or on the outside. He wants the Puritans to cleanse their mind completely and make God the center of all thinking. He uses his speech to unify the people by saying that we all need each other to survive. He basically gave a speech on how to “LIVE” to his people. I find this amusing because America started off with this person and it emerges into the land of “freedom”? I would of never though this would be the person who carried the vision of America. I kind of see someone with long flowing hair and runs naked in the woods to be the leader who brought the vision of Freedom to this nation. However, this contradiction image of how America started and what it is now is a very important image that we should see. In a way the Puritan were seeking FREEDOM from Europe. They were looking for a place to cultivate their religious beliefs. However, the moment that that received this freedom they put 100% force on keeping it aligned with their idea. It’s like when America declared independence from Britain they actually became more conservative then before. It’s just interesting to see how freedom doesn’t necessary bring “FREEDOM” but more “RESTRICTION” because “being free” is just so broad that it could easily take the minds of many to a very distant land and never return. That would be a scary thought if everyone have long hair and runs naked in the wood! that wouldn’t really make a nation, that would  make a tribe. there’s a difference I think…


Equiano gave me a different version of “FREEDOM”. I don’t really care if he wrote the story on slavery completely base off of his own experience of not. I find that really silly because I think what he is trying to bring to the reader is the importance of his understanding through slavery not whether the story is worth reading because it’s not completely true. If a person can see an idea through others and wants to deliver it to the general public who are “BLINDED” and he have the ability to deliver it powerfully, I don’t think it’s necessary to hold him against whether he wrote it completely from his own experience.

Reading his writing about slavery however did surprising gave me a completely perspective in SLAVERY and FREEDOM. Most of the time we see slavery as a horrible thing to have to go through and freedom would be making this person FREE from slavery. But we never really know what it is that we are freeing them from. Most of the time we FREE them as then we don’t know what to do with them next. How can you free one person into something an environment that they have no idea about. I think reading Equiano was a little disturbing for me at first because we see him transition into a person who adapts the western culture surprisingly well. He completely shed away his culture and adapted to the western culture. He sees that they are more advance and he wanted to be like them so he went through religious conversion and also survival of the fittest. I think the idea of freedom to a slave changed in my mind. I also see how he changes his situation from bad to good. I think Equiano was very positive and knew what he needed to do to survive. I think most of us is trying to survive in this world and even if we are not a slave we are trying to free ourselves from SOMETHING. Work, Money or Burdens. It seems like there are always certain things that hold us down and make us feel like we need LIBERATION. However, what is liberation? Equiano did receive the amazing opportunity to travel the world and see so many different points of views. He was educated and taught ideas that he probably would have never heard of if he stayed in Africa. Slavery is not good, that I will say is 100% true. But if we just take this away from Slavery I think Equiano hits an important understanding factor of our lives. Sometimes in life we just have to go with the Flow. What life leads us into and make the best out of it. Free ourselves from ourselves is what I got from Equiano’s writing.

Thomas Paine

When I read Thomas Paine I always feel a little worried for him. It seems like he really just “SAY” whatever he wants and somehow makes the weirdest connection between points that really seems to link with the COMMON PEOPLE that might not had the opportunity to have a full education. I like reading him because I feel like he is a honest man and what he write he exactly what he FELT inside. He is not covering the whole truth and embellishing his idea to fit the general public. He is not concerned with how other people perceived him. When Ben Franklin discovered him and recommended him to the American it was almost like being discovered from the street for Paine. He had the heart and courage to stand against the WORLD and be ahead of his time. However, we see that it was the aggressiveness that gave him his succes Paine s and failure. From the Common Sense to “Age of Reason” we hear the same voice but received different results. I applaud him for his courage but if we go back to what Adam Smith was talking about. The theory about how to release your anger and emotion correctly we can say Thomas completely failed. He can definitely “FEEL” but maybe if he took some of that “FEELING” back and think through it he wouldn’t have had such a harsh ending. However, we might then never have the opportunity to read something so NOT HIS GENERATION like the “Age of Reason” and see that idea being slowly processed through America’s history. I think he was bold enough to start the idea of questions whether religion is “THE WAY” to life and gave many after him to use him as a shelter or starting point. I believe that many before him also felt similar to what he was saying but never quite had the guts to just write a book on it. He took the lead and had a really depressing end to his leadership but most leaders tends to sacrifice a lot for what they believe it. If that idea is completely out of the mind of the public they usually receives sad results but after they death we see their ideas emerging into something else.