Pleasure in Melville’s fiction is never unalloyed. It is inseparable from pain and dependent upon economic forms: in “The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids,” the Melvillean bachelors’ delights are part of an economic system that opposes the British owners’ pleasurable leisure to the American laborers’ painful efforts. This exemplifies what Catherine Gallagher has described as the “somaeconomics” of the classical political economic tradition (Smith, Ricardo, Mill), the central tenet of which is a “pain theory of value.” It also signals a globalized understanding of economic forces that have an impact on bodies and affects.

This essay argues that such a Western “pain theory of value” is at the core of the narrator’s perception of work and leisure in Typee and Omoo. In these works, the narrator’s representation of the Polynesian proto-economy of pleasure, characterized by what I call a “pleasure theory of value,” is gradually replaced by the Western somaeconomics of toil and suffering, a combination of Protestantism and capitalism. Such a replacement replicates and defines the colonization process itself. In both narratives, an economic understanding of pleasure and pain (and conversely, a somatic understanding of the economy) is at the core of the description of imperialism in Polynesia.


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pp. 219-243
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