Perhaps one of the most notable writers in history is the American writer Herman Melville who was best known for his work Moby-Dick and the novella Billy-Budd (Higgins xxiii). His works which were often regarded as absurd and difficult to interpret were left to the future generation to be interpreted (Howard 5). From the time of the American Civil War up to the time of the First World War, Herman Melville was an almost completely forgotten author. Some of his famous short stories are Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street and Paradise of Bachelors and Tartarus of Maids.
Both short stories were presented in a complex narrative and the theme is the condition of work during the nineteenth century. Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street, written by Melville, first appeared anonymously in two parts in the November up to December 1853 issue of the Putnam’s Magazine and was later reprinted with minor alterations in The Piazza Tales in 1856. This short story was narrated by a Manhattan lawyer who hired another scrivener Bartleby since his other scriveners are undependable.
At first, Bartleby was very efficient in his work and produces large volumes of quality work. As time went on, Bartleby suddenly preferred to not do anything and started dwelling in the office. Even though the narrator moved his office to another place, he received complaints from the new residents about Bartleby who refused to leave the place and they were forced to have him imprisoned. Bartleby eventually died in the prison because preferred not to eat and he starved to death.
This short story captivates the reader into a problem he can never solve and even if the reader tries to digest the story over and over again, he would still be unable to understand Bartleby (Kallay 124). Melville once again made the reader see a picture of the conditions of workplaces during the nineteenth century. Just like other short stories written by Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street presents social issues during his time such as low wages for long hours of work, the physical and emotional strains caused by work and hopelessness felt by workers because of the low advancements in workplaces (Johnson 79).
The other short story, Paradise of Bachelors and Tartarus of Maids, was written in April 1855. The story which was presented in a first narrative point of view was about the narrator’s journey to New England in search of the paper mill which will sell him cheap paper for his seed business. Along the way he noticed the rich sceneries he passed through and the places around the paper mill. He discovered that the paper mill was run by bachelors and the workers are virgin women who were called girls.
The girls were overworked based on their pale complexion and blank appearance. Similar with the previous short story, Paradise of Bachelors and Tartarus of Maids, presented social issues such as long hours of work and low wage. The story also presented the struggles of women labor and how they are treated unfairly by some employers (Budd 155). The work conditions presented by the author brought about emotional stress to the workers, Bartleby and the paper mill women, and made them isolated in the society.
Melville also ended both the short stories with exclamations which somehow present the lack of hope felt by the narrators of the story to the situation (Arsic 128). Both short stories written by Herman Melville did not receive much praise during his time. Today however, these short stories are studied and praised by critics around the world. Indeed, the social issues presented by Melville in the stories not only exist during his time but is also experienced by workers today.