Literature and History: The Development of American Culture to 1865

Author Archive

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:The “Underside of American Prosperity”

“Is this the end?”

O Life, as futile, then, as frail!

What hope of answer or redress?

Life in the Iron-Mills is a reading that is one of the most profound readings we have read so far.  The quote, in the beginning of the story, “Smoke everywhere! A dirty canary chirps desolately in a cage besides me.  Its dream of green fields and sunshine is a very old dream,-almost worn, I think.”  I feel that this quote sets the tone for the rest of the story in how Deborah and Hugh live their lives in this time.  The dirty canary, dirty and covered with dirt and ashes, symbolizes Deborah and Hugh, who are trapped in their lives, in a cage.  They dream of being in another life, a life where they will not work so hard and live in complete turmoil and poverty.  Their dreams of a better life seems to be an old dream of theirs, something they can never attain, and it seems as if they have stopped trying and accept the lives they were given. It is so hard to imagine the lives of Deborah and Hugh while reading this story.  How difficult their lives are just to meet their basic needs.  They work in such harsh and unforgiving conditions and their work never seems to be enough to make ends meet.  As they numb their minds and their bodies, “By night and day the work goes on, the unsleeping engines groan and shriek, the fiery pools of metal boil and surge.”  Throughout the story, I can almost feel their pain that they put their bodies through every day just to survive and the breathless air that they breathe.  They are miserable, and lead lives of unhappiness, empty of excitement or passion.

It is so interesting to read a story about the bad side of industrial revolution.  There are so many stories and history books that boast the inventions and growth that developed at the time.  When, in actuality, so many people were taken advantage of.

The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers, although a difficult read, interests me most of some of the readings we have done so far this semester.  It interests me so because it was written to persuade reluctant New Yorkers to adopt the proposed new Constitution.  They consist of persuasive essays almost, which to me is a great feat of its writers to persuade some of these reluctant people, because obviously they were successful in persuading enough to want to pass the Constitution.  Just thinking of how well these men wrote, particularly Madison and Hamilton, that had to change one’s strongly opinionated mind about individual’s rights.  The Federalist papers stressed that an individual has a natural right to “liberty, dignity, and happiness” and that to ensure these rights government must “secure the public good, and private rights against the majority”.  To us, who live the effects of the Constitution on a daily basis, think that this way of government is of common sense, the only way.  Clearly at this time there were differences (as I’m sure there are still now), and The Federalist Papers succeeded in persuading and completely change stubborn New Yorker’s minds.  I think that Hamilton discusses many interesting points in his paper No. 1.    He brings up a question that could determine the fate of the Constitution and America-whether “societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection or choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.”  This is the ultimate question of whether men can make or break the new America.   Are we capable of establishing a just and fair government on our own through reflection of our morals and rights and making fair and well thought out choices, or does a government have to be instituted by force, out of our control, or simply by accident, without much though of justice or rights in mind?  Hamilton, although he writes of those who are involved in factions, addresses those who are capable of creating a strong and energetic government that is essential to the security of liberty.

Puritan vs Self in Anne Bradstreet’s poems

As per our last discussion in class about Anne Bradstreet’s poetry, it intrigued me that in some of the poems  Anne sort of struggles between her Puritan tenets and her own human and individualistic wants/needs.  Anne gives us a glimpse of how she lives through her deep Puritan commitment.  I found this to be a very interesting dynamic that Anne goes back and forth with throughout her poetry.  

  In “Before the Birth of One of Her Children”, Anne at first speaks to her husband about how death happens to everyone and could end their marriage possibly soon, but to refrain from being resentful about something that God has power over and has intended.  But then she continues to write requests for her husband- to remember her “kindly”  and to still love her, to be remembered through her children and protect them from their stepmother.  Anne imagines a life for her husband after she is gone.  She associates the poem with herself, as a sort of a relic that her husband can remember her by.  So, even though Anne accepts her possible death with birth and knows that it is God’s “Providence” if it happens, she makes sure she gets a clear message to her husband to always remember her and to make sure her children are taken care of.  This makes me think about how difficult it probably was at the time to follow the Puritan way but also be true to yourself-or to act like a human being sometimes.  Anne shows us how although she tries to abide by her Puritan way of life yet at times she can’t help but revert back to her human condition and hold individualistic and selfish feelings.  Anne lets us into a deeper part of her psyche.  We would think nothing of it if we faced death to tell our spouse to always love us and not never forget us in any way.  But if we had Puritan tenets to “guide” us through life- we would probably be more hesitant to say so.  Kudos to Anne for being a bit brave and letting us know how she really feels about her possible death.