Paradise of Bachelors and Tartarus of Maids and Other Stories

Mechanization Takes Command in Melville's "The Tartarus of Maids"

In Melville’s short story, “The Tartarus of Maids,” Melville creates a foil to the preceding short story, “The Paradise of Bachelors.” Melville juxtaposes these two stories as if in imitation of Blake’s contrasting poems with a theme of balance. One of those themes in the narratives is modernization and mechanization in the two places. The first has little mechanical or technological presence. It has too much of the carnal and the earthly body. However, “The Tartarus of Maids,” the representative hellish life of a maid, is ruled by machinery. Melville creates a hell in which machinery runs the lives of the women instead of the other way around in order to warn of this dangerous slavery to machines and to condemn the loss of humanity. Melville uses the cold and whiteness of the setting along with paper to symbolize this loss of humanity and path towards blankness.

Melville sets the story in the high mountains filled with cold and snow. It is no coincidence that in the location of the paper-mill “you would hardly believe it now, but it is colder than at the top of Woedolor Mountain’” according to Mr. Bach (286). The names of places in the setting also reflect this coldness and despair. The mountain’s name contains “woe” as part of...

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