One of the uncollected
short stories (now found in several anthologies) of Herman Melville
. It was published in Putnam's Monthly Magazine
in 1856. The story is interesting because, like all of Melville's writing, it is incredibly deep and multi-faceted. The story is told in first person
, with the narrator
describing himself as an old man who loves his pipe
and his chimney
. The chimney sits right in the middle of his massive house, and is itself of amazing girth: 144 square feet at the base. His wife, however, finds it to be a nuisance and spends much of the story attempting to remove the chimney in one way or another. To tell you any more would be futile; you must read all of the story, pay attention to the language, and keep in mind pervading themes that permeate Melville's literature.
Speaking of theme, I will try to give a crack at explaining what I took from the story. After reading a multitude of Melville short stories, the continuous, haunting battle between tradition and progress becomes impossible to ignore. You can see this everywhere: Billy Budd, Moby Dick, etc. In "I and My Chimney," the narrator is a staunch supporter of the way things are, and always have been. He stands by his old chimney, even though it has some serious faults. The sheer size makes the chimney impractical; the soot makes a mess of the entire house; and the chimney appears to have some sort of strange, underlying disease, akin to measles. However, the house in which the chimney resides seems built specifically to accomodate it; if removed, the results could be disastrous. Or they might not. The wife, who is described as being one of the trendy, those who jumped onto Transcendentalism as soon as it became popular. She would rather try to remove the chimney and remodel her house to perfection. However, her viewpoint ignores several good points about the chimney. It is considerably stronger than modern chimneys, with cheaply-made, yet efficient flues; it very well may be necessary for the house to stand; and the chimney, unlike many modern chimneys, requires that everyone sit facing each other when warming up in front of the fire in all of the separate rooms.
I believe that Melville gives the advantage to the side of tradition but does not rave about it; instead, his narrator even acknowledges that there are problems with his chimney, his tradition. When read in the context of other stories, Melville's point seems to be that tradition is not a good system but is better than the alternative. When given the choice between the safe, determined past and the daunting, chaotic future, Melville chooses haven.
As an aside, in class my professor mentioned that a researcher whose name escapes me put forth an argument that "I and My Chimney" is about the tension just before the American Civil War. His recurring theme of tradition versus progress, even without specific evidence (though there is a considerable amount apparent even to me), fits the pre-war period disturbingly well.