'In the Midst of Prosperity': Free-Labor Republicanism, Labor Radicalism in the New York Press, and the Virtue of Suffering in Herman Melville's "The Piazza Tales" (1856)

Furrh, Douglass Madison. 'In the Midst of Prosperity': Free-Labor Republicanism, Labor Radicalism in the New York Press, and the Virtue of Suffering in Herman Melville's "The Piazza Tales" (1856). 2010. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.
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'In the Midst of Prosperity' focuses on Herman Melville's critique of republican discourse, in his The Piazza Tales (1856). By situating "The Piazza," "Bartleby, the Scrivener," and "Benito Cereno" in the fertile soil of labor radicalism then being expressed throughout the city's newspapers and immigrant communities, 'In the Midst of Prosperity' demonstrates how Republican ideology shapes conversations around race, class, gender, and empire in nineteenth-century America. Melville's Tales , and his ironic use of narrative voice, engages and exposes the discourses around free-labor rhetoric and how they facilitate industrial capitalism and American exceptionalism and their relation to expansion and empire in antebellum America. While the discourse of free labor preaches independence in the midst of systemic poverty and destitution, the ideological attitudes and assumptions—centering around the self-determining subject—silenced and marginalized dissent and enabled containment both in the period and in the histories that followed. The newspaper accounts in general, and Karl Marx's work at the New York Tribune in particular, bring clarity to Melville's searing critique of free-labor republicanism rescuing his Tales from the aesthetic reading practices privileged during the Cold War era When scrubbed clean of class, gender, and racial strife, free-labor republicanism is, in all probability, the most powerful ideology ever constructed. Yet beneath its pristine rhetoric, and its righteous antagonism of chattel slavery, was a working class suffering in mind and body as evidenced by the starving laborer and the domestically-imprisoned woman. 'In the Midst of Prosperity' is part of the larger movement in contemporary scholarship that draws on the histories of historically-oppressed groups in order to provide much needed clarity in interpreting the literary works from the period. By foregrounding the influence of immigrant populations and trans-Atlantic journalism on antebellum political discourse, 'In the Midst of Prosperity' provides insight into the conceits associated with republicanism and laissez-faire capitalism that facilitated class divisions throughout the free-labor North, conducted the United States across the continent and the Pacific, and largely determines contemporary social formations.

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Completed/published
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