Distortion In Herman Melville's Benito Cereno

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Distortion is arguably the most persuasive technique an author can utilize, because, once the truth is revealed, a text and its themes are much more resonant and influential. When faced with distortion, a reader is forced to examine their beliefs and actions in comparison to the author’s underlying statements about people and society as a whole. Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno, one of the greatest works of distortion of all time, recounts the story of a slave ship called the San Dominick. Captain Delano, the commander of the Bachelor’s Delight, boards the San Dominick, which appears to be in distress. Despite having numerous suspicions about the slave’s role on the ship, Delano does not realize the truth until the conclusion of the story: the …show more content…
Southerners claimed that slavery was a “positive good” because it bettered the lives of and opportunities for slaves. On the other hand, Northerns questioned the humanity and morality of slavery. Along with Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville daringly and influentially contributed to and fueled discussions surrounding slavery. Benito Cereno rose to prominence and forced Americans to cross-examine ideas of race, slavery, and revolt: does race determine a person’s capability or goodness? To what extent do our preconceived notions barricade us from seeing …show more content…
Captain Delano is characterized as having a “singularly undistrustful good nature” (35) and as being “a man of such native simplicity...incapable of satire or irony.” (51) While Captain Delano is generally not outwardly racist, he is guilty of benign racism. He frequently dehumanizes and belittles the slaves by referring to them as animals: “Captain Delano took to negroes, not philanthropically, but genially, just as other men to Newfoundland dogs.” (71) Captain Delano’s application of preconceived prejudice to the blacks on the San Dominick is not an isolated incident; historically, at this time, while most Northerners were anti-slavery, they still ignorantly believed that “whites, too, by nature, were the shrewder race.” (63) This ignorance is what leads to Captain Delano’s unawareness of the power of the slaves on the ship. Since Delano thinks the blacks are “too stupid” (63) to organize and execute a slave revolt, he dismisses countless suspicious instance in which the slaves appear to be in power, ranging from letting the slaves, like Atufal, freely roam the deck, to Babo, the slave, nearly slitting Benito Cereno’s throat. Time after time, Cereno internally settles suspicions, like a black boy hitting a white boy with a knife, by telling

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