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.

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