Role of the Narrator

In the article, “The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids’: A dialogue about experience, understanding, and truth”, Weyler focuses on the role of the narrator in conveying Melville’s message. She explains that while the reader cannot reach an understanding of the purpose of story without reading the second part, “The Tartarus of Maids”, the narrator also does not reach a higher understanding of his experiences until he leaves the paper mill. I agree with Weyler’s claim here because it seems as though the narrator in this story is very similar to reader. He gains incite about the problems in his society as the story unfolds and comes to an ultimate realization at the end.

Weyler explains that as the story progresses, it “dramatizes [the narrator’s] movement from passivity and observation to direct engagement with life” (Weyler). While in The Paradise, the narrator merely describes the gluttonous way of the bachelors but does nothing about it. This attitude shifts when he is exposed to the women’s suffering in The Tartarus, and actively attempts to make sense of the situation. The narrator describes the location of the bachelor’s dinner, exclaiming, “I know not how many strange stairs I climbed to get to it. But a good dinner, with famous company, should be well earned” (Melville 1261). The narrator is clearly disapproving of the bachelors’ attitudes, as he uses sarcasm to emphasize how conceited the bachelors are. However, despite his satirical comments, he never actively tries to come to a deeper understanding of the sitiuation. Conversely, when he becomes of aware of the horrible conditions and treatment of women at the paper mills, he declares, “This is the very counterpart of the Paradise of Bachelors, but snowed upon, and frost painted to a sepulchre” (Melville 1269). Rather than merely complaining about the problems of the mill, the narrator is actually able to come to some sort of a realization. Additionally, he engages in conversation with the workers in the mill to try to learn more about the situation.

The narrator acts only as an observer throughout the first part of the story because he has not yet been exposed to life at the paper mills. Just as the reader cannot analyze a text before finishing it, the narrator is unable to come to a deeper realization about his society until he has been exposed to both worlds.

3 comments
  1. I agree with your comment that the reader and the narrator have similar experiences when reading Melville’s story. When I was first reading the Paradise section I was very confused about the importance of what I was reading. However, when I finally finished the Tartarus section of the text I came to a realization about why the first section was necessary. The two sections are not only contrasts, but they have a deeper connection in which one is not significant without the other.

  2. I agree that these two stories have a connection between the two and agree with you and Weyler that the narrator comes to more of a conclusion in the end than his passivity in the beginning. It is evident at the end of the novel when the narrator exclaims about both parties making a clear connection between the two.

  3. Jaime, I completely agree with the connection that both you and Weyler made between the two stories. I also wrote in my blog this week about the movement from a a passive narrator in “The Paradise of Bachelors” to an active narrator in “The Tartarus of Maids”. As I stated in my blog and how you so clearly stated in yours, the readers realize the passivity of the narrator in the first story as it is only a detailed description of the ‘paradise’ these bachelors live in. Rather, there is no meaning behind the interactions between the narrator and the bachelors. However, in “The Tartarus of Maids”, the narrator becomes actively engaged with the scene around him as he begins to ask questions and engage in conversation to help him come to an understanding about a life at a paper mill. I agree with Weyler that the narrator’s understanding of the women at the paper mill allows him to finally understand the larger truth about the paradise of the bachelors.

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