Limitations of perspective in Benito Cereno and Melville’s style

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I want to first begin looking at the main conflict and the race theme presented in this story. The narrative, “Benito Cereno” by Melville, presents an intention of ideological disassembly in relation to a critique of the protestant white North American worldview, about the capabilities and possibilities of slaves and Hispanics. Melville uses the narrative to talk about real events in different perspectives, showing the way in which a white protestant American conscience cannot understand a slave insurrection. Throughout the narrative, Captain Delano has this “white supremacy conscience” by talking about the insufficient capabilities of Benito and often describing him as weak. The same thing happens when describing the slaves, he often talks about them as inferior and in his “nature” he sees nothing wrong, or in matter of fact perceives slavery as a natural thing

With these thoughts, Captain Delano is characterize as the order and hierarchy, and cannot imagine a revolt of slaves, which limits his perspectives of slavery and strengthens his view of white hierarchy. The captain is unable to realize his real situation, his inability to detect the slave mutiny inside the ship is reflected, which is tied to an unconscious and involuntary racism, constitutive of his personality. We can also observe the perception of Captain Delano when he thinks about the slaves as animals and inferior beings, “In fact, like most men of a good, blithe heart, Captain Delano took to Negroes, not philanthropically, but genially, just as other men to Newfoundland dogs” (pg. 1542). We can observe that he thinks he has a good opinion of black people, but this is just an insane thought how he describes the people. He may have this opinion of how he is good in nature and “kind” because during the time of the narrative, a lot of slaves were abused and mistreated. This shows the constant natural thinking of Delano showing he is good, kind and better, which further enforces this idea of how Captain Delano is the embodiment of white order and supremacy. 

The writing style of Herman Melville is impactful in the way he talks about modern themes that we focus today in society. For example, his writing about race and how he talks about the different conditions of black and white people. In “The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids” we also observe the different treatment between men and women, and how women are treated inferior to men. He also talks about power, inequality, capitalism, identity, and the progressive thought of resistance in his writing. Melville’s writing is distinct in the way he often writes stories and narratives to compare to sides of a concept. Just like with Hawthorne and Poe, Melville also uses this “doubling effect” to write. We can see this effect in his titles, and ideas such as black vs. white, men vs. women, and all the other comparisons he mentions. It is impressive how his writing often deals with modern topics when back in his time these ideas were original, progressive and very complex concepts. 

2 thoughts on “Limitations of perspective in Benito Cereno and Melville’s style”

  1. I like what you say about Melville’s “doubling effect”, Juan. I think you are right that Melville is often trying to see things (and force his readers to see things) from multiple perspectives, even if that means hiding things from us, which is true too of Poe and Hawthorne.

  2. Hi Juan,

    I like how you pointed out the “doubling effect” and the similarities to Hawthorne and Poe. I agree with you that Captain Delano does have a confused perspective throughout “Benito Cereno,” which is limiting. Captain Delano is certainly not as perceptive as he believes himself to be, and I think Mellieve uses this to make a comment. Through Delano, Mellieve points to the power of human biases and how people try to find ways to confirm what they already believe instead of being open to ideas that challenge their perceptions of the world.

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