O'Connell's Cloudy Mirror

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Narrative Collusion and Occluusion in Melville's "Benito Cereno", O'Connell

Literary Criticism--EL312

I remember the reactions most of the class had when we first read Benito Cereno. A lot of people did not argee with the racist tone that the story had. I had a feeling that Melville himself was racist. But I think O'Connell would disagree with me:

Melville opens his story by setting up the expectation that the reader should be wise and discerning, able to see beyond the allegedly innocent interpretations of Delano.... actual readers must be astute enough to resist the "temptations" of racism and struggle to stave off the seductions of the narrator and Delano's self-serving misinterpretations.

O'Connell mentioned that Melville betrayed the readers by hiding the true meaning from us. Nevertheless, it engages us into the story and arises feelings in us that is normally pacified. O'Connell also noticed that sentimental literature depends on the reader's response. I stated earlier in another blog that it is basically up to us to make great literature. Personally, I would not count Benito Cereno as great literature, but it is definetly memorable literature.

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I never thought to look at the O'Connell article in that way. When I read it all I could think about was how much I felt betrayed by Melville for hiding things from me, but what you say is true. Had he not written it in the way he did I probably would not have been as angry at Delano at the end when he finally realizes what is going on. I guess that I'm going to have to rethink my feelings on this story now (which I seem to be doing a lot of by the way).

Also, I wanted to comment on what you said about the reader making great literature. I couldn't agree with you more here. With all of the genres of writing out in the great big world, it is not hard to imagine that different people will become attached to different genres.