AbstractMelville's Mardi committed a number of sins, the most egregious being its challenge to the work ethic-one of the ideological centerpieces of nineteenth-century American culture. The work ethic combined a belief in hard work with the promise of reward-sometimes material, sometimes spiritual, sometimes both. It had provided a coherent framework for both the economic and moral development of American society and a reliable American self-one that could be constructed and measured according to the values of hard labor-but at midcentury it was beginning to unravel under the combined pressures of mechanized and specialized labor and the development of an American working class. In this context, allegories like Mardi seemed to threaten the middle-class construction of American identity because the form's two-dimensional characters uncomfortably reminded readers and reviewers that working- class Americans were increasingly being deprived of agency and identity by the repetitive nature of their work. The literary notion of allegory thus became a discursive site through which middle-class reviewers and readers expressed their commitment to a stable work ethic and their anxieties about its dissolution. Mardi, I shall argue, transgressed the ideology of the work ethic on a number of levels-from the audience's relation to work and leisure time, to the author's relations to the work of writing, to the characters' relation to their work in the fictive economy. Reading the failure of Mardi in terms of the dissolution of the work ethic, we discover that its reception can no longer be dismissed as an anomalous event in one writer's career, but rather must be seen as an exemplification of the power of nineteenth-century ideology.
Weinstein, Cindy (1993) The Calm before the Storm: Laboring Through Mardi. American Literature, 65 (2). pp. 239-253. ISSN 0002-9831. http://resolver.caltech.edu/CaltechAUTHORS:20180828-100638616 <http://resolver.caltech.edu/CaltechAUTHORS:20180828-100638616>