Analysis of Critical Essays on Benito Cereno
It is possible to divide the critics into two camps regarding Herman Melville's purpose in writing "Benito Cereno." Joseph Schiffman, Joyce Adler, and Sidney Kaplan all argue that Melville wrote the story to make a comment on slavery. On the other hand, Sandra Zagarell and Allan Emery contend that Melville goes beyond slavery and is pointing out other flaws in mid Nineteenth century American notion.
"Benito Cereno" tells the story of a slave revolt on a ship at sea. Schiffman, Adler, and Kaplan argue that Melville wrote the story as a comment on slavery. Schiffman and Adler contend that Melville's novella is a ...view middle of the document...
At the end of the essay, Schiffman contradicts himself by proclaiming that Babo's head being "unabashed" as Benito Cereno, the slave trader, "follow[s] his leader" is an indictment of slavery.
"'Benito Cereno': Slavery and Violence in the Americas" is Joyce Adler's analysis of
Melville's story. While agreeing with Schiffman that Melville wrote an anti-slavery book, she
goes beyond her predecessor by claiming that Melville intended to show intricacies of the
master/slave relationship and the violence that slavery breeds. Adler argues that the master
and slave are "inseparable, irreconcilable, and interchangeable" (82). She points out that Babo
frees himself and subsequently enslaves his former master, Don Benito. She says that
Delano's statement, "Ah, this slavery breeds ugly passions in man," is Melville's indictment
of the practice (86). Adler does not accept Schiffman's color analysis. She contends that black
and white are merely opposites and have no significance other than their relative positions in
the master/slave relationship. She also places the story in a much broader historical context.
She concludes that "Benito Cereno" is Melville's attempt to warn the United States of its
critical flaw: slavery. To this end, Adler includes exhaustive evidence that Melville linked
Spain and the United States in the characters of Benito Cereno and Amasa Delano,
Sidney Kaplan argues in "Herman Melville and the American National Sin: The
Meaning of 'Benito Cereno'" that Melville wrote a book in favor of slavery. He contends that
Babo, and therefore symbolically black, is inherently evil and that Melville intended to show
the innate depravity in blacks. He says that blacks are slaves because they are evil. Kaplan
states that the reverse color imagery of "Moby-Dick" that Schiffman relies on is not present in
"Benito Cereno" (44). He believes the pro-slavery ideas of the story come from Melville's
change in "notions about the innately jolly, minstrel, religious nature of Negroes" (46).
According to Kaplan, Melville's past assumptions are those of Delano at the beginning of the
novella. Kaplan stands in direct contrast to Schiffman: "... nor is Schiffman to the point when
he contends that the anti-slavery intention of 'Benito Cereno' is shown by Melville's mere
choice of the subject of slave revolt" (37). Kaplan argues that the animal imagery that is
present in "Benito Cereno" is not Delano's but Melville's.
To assume that Melville wrote "Benito Cereno" as a far-reaching political statement,
Allan Emery and Sandra Zagarell must make many assumptions. Emery, for instance, focuses
on the implications that "Benito Cereno" makes in regard to Manifest Destiny in his article,
"'Benito Cereno' and Manifest Destiny." He assumes that Melville subscribed to Putnam's
Monthly Magazine, and that he read specific...