Paradise of Bachelors and the Tarturus of Maid by Herman Melville








"The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tarturus of Maids", is a short story by Melville written in 1855. The story was written while Industrialization was peaking in America and the division between the Upper and Lower classes was becoming more and more evident through factory labor. The story was written as a cry out against the impoverished and tortured life of the working class. Melville himself was not a political man, and held little voice in his life time due to his unappreciated nature, but the story makes a clear cry out for the impoverished, tortured lives of the woman who worked at the factories. The bleak, dark, and depressing nature of the story with it's emphasis on the cognitive path the narrator takes while viewing the factory, and the little action displayed in the story, push the story into the Dark Romantic category. The psychological aspect of the novella, examining the slave-like being of the women and the domineering and unsympathetic nature of the men, showcase Melville's distaste for Industrialization and man's nature of taking advantage of their own kind for profit or their own benefit.

Tartarus is known as an afterlife for the ill behaved. The nature of Tartarus is an afterlife for the wicked where they are punished for their ill behavior and tortured for all eternity. The Maids' Tartarus is a paper mill where they are worked from dusk til dawn, not being allowed any interaction with each other, and working for the benefit of the men, who live in a "Paradise." Melville paints the hopeless nature of the women in several lines throughout the poem expressing the bleak and harsh nature of their work environment, with lines such as "The whole hollow gleamed with the white, except, here and there, where a pinnacle of granite showed one wind-swept angle bare. The mountains stood pinned in shrouds -- a pass of Alpine corpses. Where stands the mill? Suddenly a whirling, humming sound broke upon my ear. I looked, and there, like an arrested avalanche, lay the large whitewashed factory. It was subordinately surrounded by a cluster of other and smaller buildings, some of which, from their cheap, blank air, great length, gregarious windows, and comfortless expression, no doubt were boarding-houses of the operatives (Melville.)" The picture painted in the scene sets the mood for the rest of the story. The narrator is given a tour of the facility by a man by the name of Cupid. He is portrayed as an unsympathetic, villainous man who cares only for his own gain. The line "Why" -- with a roguish twinkle, pure ignorant drollery, not knowing heartlessness -- "I suppose the handling of such white bits of sheets all the time makes them so sheety." (Melville.)" uttered when Cupid is asked by the narrator of the girls pale complexion, demonstrates Cupid's uncaring and abrupt nature towards the girl's well-being. This quality of the story shows the villainous nature of man, giving the woman near slave-like conditions for their own benefit, as they do almost no work at all and only oversee the running of the factory. The story has little action throughout, and only focuses on the journey of the narrator to the factory in the first half, while focusing on his tour of the facility in the second half. The story also ends abruptly with the narrator exclaiming "Oh! Paradise of Bachelors! and oh! Tartarus of Maids! (Meville.)" The story is left with no resolving ending, only the narrators remorse of the terrible conditions of the women forced to work in the factory.

Throughout the story the workers of the factory, all women, are referred to as girls. This is due to the face that not one of them is a mother and they are all virgins. The men domineer their lives by not allowing any of them to have families because that would detract form their ability to work. This shows the dominant nature of the men who exploit the women to get the most out of them at their own peril. The fact that they are not allowed to bear children also represents the double-sided nature of the slavery because not only do the men control the womens lives, but their ability to raise a family as well. They have control of every aspect of the women's lives and this showcases their evil and tyrannical abuse of their power.

Melville also wrote the poem "The Martyr" a story about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. This work and "The Martyr" are entirely different in subject matter, but their bleak nature keep them both in the category of Dark Romanticism. In his poem Melville tells the tragic story of a man who devoted his entire life to helping another people, but in the end those very people are the ones who end his life. Both stories entail great tragedy and leave the reader with a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. The story of "The Martyr" paints a picture of hopefulness due to the title character's forgiving nature, but as Huff states in this line "With Lincoln out of the way, sentiments like those expressed in this poem moved his successors to impose harsh political penalties on those states that lost the war." The bleak future for the people the character was trying to save impose the hopeless nature of their future and in this it shares similarities with "Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids."

The nature of the story and it's focus on the psychological and cognitive, as opposed to the real, and unfabricated, showcase it's characteristics of a Dark Romantic story. Written in defense of the poor, manipulated women laborers in the factories of America, the story takes it's influence from Melville's personal opposition to the awful nature of the working conditions the factory laborers had to face day in and day out. With several clever symbols and metaphors woven throughout the story Melville expertly showcases his work as a Dark Romantic masterpiece.



Works Cited


Melville, Herman. "The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids." College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
University of Virginia Library, May 1997. Web. 08 Dec. 2010. <http://chss.montclair.edu/english/furr/i2l/par-tar.html>.

Huff, Randall. "'The Martyr'." The Facts On File Companion to American Poetry, vol. 1. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2007. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= CPAP0257&SingleRecord=True (accessed December 9, 2010).