"A change of occupation": Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener", "The Encantadas", and "Benito Cereno" and the discourse community of "Putnam's Monthly"

Date of Completion

January 2006


Literature, American




"'A Change of Occupation'" studies three of Melville's most highly regarded tales through the critical lens of the discourse community paradigm. Originally written for Putnam's Monthly, the three tales show Melville producing critically successful fiction while continually challenging his readers, a success Melville never achieved with his non-magazine efforts. The first chapter examines Putnam's as a functioning discourse community, a dynamic network of writers, readers, and editors, employing common discourses for a common purpose within a commonly accepted set of norms, a community in which Melville successfully participated for a number of years. Chapter two focuses on Melville's first Putnam's story, "Bartleby, the Scrivener," a tale that placed particular demands upon its first readers and that required Melville himself to adapt to a shorter form and employ popular material in particular ways. Chapter three examines Melville's most popular tale with his original audience, "The Encantadas," a work that for modern readers remains elusive and enigmatic. However, reading the collection of sketches within the discourse community of Putnam's reveals elements of the tale and authorial strategies that might otherwise go unheeded. Chapter four treats what is perhaps Melville's most controversial and technically skillful short tale, "Benito Cereno." Again, examining the story within the context of the discourse community highlights the ambivalent and often contradictory assumptions about race and the slave trade that operated within the Putnam's community. The volatile topic of black slavery---set against a background of Old/New World loyalties, religious animosities, and racial relations---produced a challenging and disturbing tale for its original readers. The dissertation ends with a discussion of the insights that a discourse community-orientated approach to Melville's work provides. Appended to the dissertation are compilations of the entire contents of the first series of Putnam's Monthly. Appendix A lists by issue all the essays, stories, poems, and editorial pieces published in Putnam's from January 1853 through September 1857. Appendix B undertakes the project of sorting this massive production by genre. Such analyses begin to draw a more complete picture of the Putnam's Monthly discourse community. ^