Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Philosophy (Ph.D)



First Advisor

Steven R. Mentz

Second Advisor

Granville Ganter

Third Advisor

Amy M. King


John Steinbeck, Herman Melville, and Ann Petry explicate the dignity and responsibility of child laborers in American society. Steinbeck, Melville, and Petry present in their literature child laborers who enact humanitarianism. Child laborers are humanitarians due to the work they have produced for and contributed to American society’s economic success, especially while working and not receiving necessary laws to protect their wellbeing. The authors differ, though, in their literary works regarding how the child laborer’s viewpoint receives response from an adult. Steinbeck honors the child laborer by writing of the child laborer whose voice encompasses grand immersion with life. Steinbeck presents the child laborer who participates in society with heedful response from an adult while also experiencing joyful independence. Melville presents the adult who respectfully consults the child laborer’s viewpoint yet does not heed the child laborer’s insight. Therefore, Melville denounces an adult’s stagnancy when consulting the child laborer’s wise viewpoint or insight. Petry presents the loyalty and determination of the child laborer, especially the child laborer as academic laborer, who encounters suppression and duplicity from adults. Petry advocates for the adult’s responsibility to loyally advance the child laborer’s voice and aspirations. Steinbeck, Melville, and Petry give voice to child laborers. Ruthie Joad and Winfield Joad from Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Pip from Melville’s Moby-Dick or, The Whale, and Bub Johnson from Petry’s The Street are four child laborers whose lives the three authors cogently relate in their respective novels. Furthermore, The Grapes of Wrath, Moby-Dick, and The Street can be aligned with the Child Labor Amendment of 1924. American society can directly acknowledge child laborers’ work in society by a declaration in the Constitution via ratification of the Child Labor Amendment. Through ratification, the United States can affirm honor and respect toward child laborers, past, present, and future, and this recognition can become a symbolic declaration of unity, peace, and respect in the Country. Recognizing and remembering the massive amounts of labor produced by child laborers is society’s obligation. Steinbeck, Melville, and Petry do so. Each author presents a specific approach in advocacy of the child laborer’s voice.