English 239 Written Assn. #1 October 6, 2003 Herman Melville's short story "The Tartarus of Maids" and Deborah Boe's poem "Factory Work" are both literary texts of significantly different time periods dealing with significantly similar social issues. Both literary works establish a bond between the roles of women involved in factory work, and both provide a similar unsettling representation of how meek such an existence must be. Nonetheless both texts have many denoting qualities about their structure and context that must be brought to attention in order to accurately compare and contrast these two fine literary works. In this paper the "The Tartarus of Maids" and "Factory Work," will be scrutinized against one another in an attempt to comprehend the underlying morals of both written texts.
It is easily seen the homogeneity these texts share to the relationship between women and factory work, but there lies many different attributes to these texts which instills in the reader contrasting conceptions of the magnitude of the situations in which these women work and exist. One of the most obvious differences between these two literary works, short of one being a story and the other a poem, pertains to their differing narrations. "The Tartarus of Maids" is narrated by a man, while "Factory Work" is narrated by a women. Nevertheless, this obvious contrast holds the key to the many differences that divide the two similar works.
For example, Melville's description of the narrator is one of influence and account. This established the entire structural reasoning behind his story. By having the narrator state that: "Having embarked on a large scale in the seedsman's business (so extensively and broadcast, indeed, that at length my seeds were distributed through all the Eastern and Northern States, and even fell into the far soil of Missouri and the Carolinas), the demand for paper at my place became so great that the expenditure soon amounted to a most important item in the general account." Melville appointed the narrator as a successful business man of high social class (31). This differs greatly from Boe's poem of "Factory Work" in that it is established with the first two lines of the poem that the narrator is an actual female factory worker by writing, "All day I stand here, like this, - over the hot-glue machine" (61). By doing this, Boe provides a much more intimate relationship with the reader, giving them a more personal repose amongst the other laborers and their efforts.
These differences in narrative style administer a great variance in the reader's perception, and thus a similar yet inconsistent opinion of the female workers is produced. At the end of "The Tartarus of Maids" story, Melville writes, "-Oh! Paradise of Bachelors! and oh! Tartarus of Maids" (38). This ending comment could be considered facetious, in an attempt by the author to lessen the burden of having had the narrator witnesses the spiritless working conditions of the factory women in the paper mill, or it could be considered simply an element of realism in literature. In a realistic sense, could it not be that Melville's narrator, rather than be openly offended by the working conditions of these women, found humor in it? That he observed them with an awe not unlike that felt when observing the great paper machinery? These are questions that text produces and leaves in many degrees unanswered. Whereas in Boe's "Factory Work" there is little question as to how the factory working woman is portrayed. When Boe writes of it being late October, and concludes the poem with, "to see your breath rise - out of you like your own ghost - each morning you come here" there is little controversy over how the narrator feels about her situation and her work (62).
When stated that, "It's all - in economy of motion, all the moves - on automatic. - I almost - don't need to look at what - I'm doing" there can be no argument as to the relentless monotony of her job (Boe 62). This straight forward and personal narration of "Factory Work" is in itself what sets Boe's text apart from Melville's. These differences in perception may be attributed to the time periods in which the two works were written. The fact that "The Tartarus of Maids" was written during the middle of the 19 th century, and "Factory Work" was written during the late 20 th century can certainly be considered sound reasoning for the disparity between the two. Social norms, literary styles, and product market foundations are without a doubt elements that pertain to these differences.
That very well might have been the reasoning behinds Melville's use of a male narrator of the upper class. Nevertheless, it is the emotional impact which captivates the minds and hearts of a reader. Both texts deal with cold weather climates, women in torturous working environments of monotony, and underlying themes that the women have become slaves to the machines at which they work. Processed just as the products they produce.
Still, it is Boe's ability to present her poem in a more personal and straight forward manner that sets "Factory Work" apart from "The Tartarus of Maids." Her application of the narrator's thoughts as she works builds the very foundation for the mindless job at which she employs. Boe writes, "Phyllis, who stands next to me, - had long hair before the glue machine - go it. My machine ate up my skirt once. - I tried to get it out, the wheel - spinning on me, until someone with a brain - turned it off (61). This quote allows no room for doubt about what how the narrator feels nor the implication of the authors maintaining anything other that sympathy. In conclusion, the similarities and differences between the two literary works of "The Tartarus of Maids" and "Factory Work" can be attributed to many varying aspects.
Narrator selection by the author, the time period in which they were written, and the literary format of the works, all contribute to the extensive comparability of the two texts. Although both being fine pieces of literature, "Factory Work" seemingly provides a stronger incentive of provoking sympathy for the female factory laborers, rather than the possible underlying element of exploitation discovered in "The Tartarus of Maids." As for the similar underlying morals shared between the two, it seems that it is always a cold world when one lives as a slave of the working class, and there will always be a company to embrace such bondage.