Not Just Unreliable, But Pretending to Be Reliable

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From Catharine O’Connell’s “Narrative Collusion and Occlusion in Melville’s ‘Benito Cereno’”:

“Readers’ willingness to trust and agree with the narrator is their ultimate undoing” (192).

Whatever else O’Connell’s essay said I can safely say that I agree with her comments on a narrator’s ability to (mis)guide the reader.  I will be quite honest here and admit that while I was reading “Benito Cereno,” I did not even notice the presence of a narrator.  I mean I knew there was one, but I didn’t really think about the affect the narrator was having on my perceptions of the story. 

In EL237 (Writing About Literature), we talked quite a few times about point of view and the importance of where the story is coming from.  I even wrote a paper about the narrator in a Poe story being unreliable (no surprise there).  But usually, these narrators do not pretend to be reliable.  It is very obvious that they are mentally unhinged.

 In “Benito Cereno,” we don’t even know who the narrator is and since there is no major attention drawn to his existence, it is easy to just trust him and go along with his statements as true and authoritative.  If for no other reason, I liked O’Connell’s article simply because she challenged me to be more perceptive when I read and to carefully examine the role of the narrator even if, the narrator seems to be believable. 

To read more of O'Connell's essay, click here

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