February 4, 2007

Melville Wasn't as Creative as We Thought

Apparently, Herman Melville was a plagarist of history. Looking at his background, and the events at the time the story was written, Melville didn't create a new tale but rather stole from the real-life dramas of the time. Good one, Hermy.

The title of the article is what struck me really more than anything: "Herman Melville and the American National Sin: The Meaning of 'Benito Cereno'" by Sidney Kaplan. Really, the meaning? Can Kaplan really make such a claim? How can one ever truly know the meaning of the story? Is Kaplan magic? No, he just used the author's history, of course.

I think this was a bit of a historical reading, since a lot of history about the time in which Melville wrote "Benito Cereno" was given. I learned more about ships of the 1800s than I ever cared to know. Was this information useful in shedding light on the meaning of the work? Not entirely. It really only displayed Melville's lack of creativity on his part, instead of giving me much insight. Another case for the lack of necessity for author biography/history on a work?

I also doubt Kaplan's admission of supplying the meaning to the story. I must say, none of the information presented was entirely earth-shattering: black vs white, slave vs owner, good vs evil, and all the dark foreshadowing. Gee, who would have thought? It is not necessary for the reader to know whether Melville was a Yank or Southerner in order to pick out his feelings on slavery and the view of blacks in this era, as well as the predjudices experienced by most Americans at the time. While helpful, it is not crucial, as the reader can pick up these key elements from the story regardless.

Kaplan, ''Herman Melville and the American National Sin: The Meaning of 'Benito Cereno''' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

Posted by VanessaKolberg at February 4, 2007 8:53 PM | TrackBack


I love your thinly-veiled sarcasm. I quite agree with your opinion about the Kaplan essay. I gleaned nothing original from Kaplan's assessment.

Posted by: Dave Moio at February 6, 2007 10:43 PM

When you wrote "Hermy" all I could think of was the Full House episode when Michelle learns that Uncle Jessie's real name is Hermy... and she calls him Uncle Hermy thereafter on that episode. Oh nostalgia.

Anyway, to me Kaplan's argument seemed like a not-so-great example of historical criticism (since by the end I'm still unsure why it is he brought up the point of the actual events in the first place...). There have got to be better examples with more and better evidence for this type of criticism.

Regardless, I'm not going to lose sleep over it.

Posted by: Karissa at February 7, 2007 6:17 PM

But in a way aren't most stories just some form of plagarism. I mean mostly writers when creating their unique ideas, are just subconciously recreating something from their life/or the world around them. To the extent where all stories are ripped off from one place or another, so their all thieves.

Posted by: Mitchell Steele at February 8, 2007 4:13 PM
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