The Politics of Melville’s Tales

Henry Melville, a world-renowned American writer of  novels, essays, poetry, and various short stories, is best known for his classical literary masterpiece Moby-Dick, which is considered by some as a “Great American Novel”  and for the controversial novella Billy Budd, which was published after the author’s death. Melville is a staple in western literary circles but what is most often overlooked with his tales are the political undertones hinted at by his stories.Take for example the short story by Melville entitled “Bartleby, the Scrivener”, a tale about a Lawyer who hires a copyist – the protagonist Bartleby. Although it seems that the character Bartleby at first is just a common depiction of a hard working scrivener, the character turns out to be a  reflection of the current state of American culture at  the time and its growing tendency for materialistic things. This is depicted through the main character Bartleby as he would “prefer not” to do his job and yet remains in that place of business, doing nothing. The story of Bartleby the scrivener clearly dealt with issues regarding job dissatisfaction whilst pointing out the possible future reliance of the American economy on Wall Street.Another story of great political context  by Melville is “Benito Cereno”, a novella  published in 1855.Tackling the sensitive issue of slavery six years before the Civil War, Benito Cereno is a tale of vicious slaves who attempted to overthrow their white masters. A story well before its time, it evoked mixed emotions regarding slavery, nonetheless enabling people to take a stand on the issue.These observations were also pointed out by analysts and professionals. In the book entitled “Subversive Genealogy: The Politics and Art f Herman Melville”, the author Michael Paul Rogin described Melville as a writer who recorded and interpreted American society, focusing more on American politics due to his political lineage, imbibing political developments in his works through symbolic depictions in his own work (Rogin 1985).Works CitedRogin, Michael Paul,  Subversive Genealogy: The Politics and Art f Herman Melville     University of California Press. 1985. Print.;