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Racism and Slavery in “Benito Cereno”

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    Herman Melville is known greatly in the world of literature for his enigmatic works, such as “Bartleby the Scrivener”, and “Benito Cereno”. His complex plot and unique character personalities make his works both interesting and compelling. In “Benito Cereno”, we are introduced to the narrator Captain Delano as he and his crew encounter the ship, the San Dominick, in need of assistance.

    Upon climbing aboard he meets Captain Cereno along with is crew and slaves, and is informed of their unfortunate events has left the ship without supplies. However, Captain Delano is not aware of what is actually going on behind the fake story he is told.

    The slaves aboard are the ones in charge holding the Spaniards hostage and forcing them to take them back to Africa. Throughout the story the narrators suspicious rises but is never investigated therefore saving his life and the life of Captain Cereno. Captain Delano dismissed his suspicions because he believes the slaves are stupid, cannot organize, and know their place, but this text is a notice or warning to slave owners in the south, and involved with the Trans-Atlantic trade slave trade.

    The underestimation of the slaves ability can lead to the down fall of many if not taken seriously. Originally the non-fictional basis of this text is on the memoir of the once alive Amasa Delano who wrote of a slave revolt on the Spanish ship Tryall. While “Benito Cereno” is a strong and entertaining story of a slave revolt on a Spanish ship, one may not see the message Melville may be trying to express to his readers. Published in 1855, the United States on the brink of the Civil War with the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, this story speaks the horror and nightmare many abolitionist.


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