O'Connell's Objective

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From O'Connell's "Narrative Collusion and Pcclusion in Melville's 'Benito Cereno'" in Keesey's Contexts for Criticism:

"My interest is in showing how this manipulation of the reader is accomplished and suggesting a theory as to why, at this particular moment in political and literary history, such an approach was both available and effective" (188).

I really liked O'Connell's essay for a number of reasons.  The above statement has a big part in it.  I don't know if other essays didn't have statements like this one or if I wasn't paying close enough attention, but this essay had a clear thesis (if you want to call it that being that it appears on the third page of the essay) or as I called it, his goal statement.  I was interested in seeing, at the end of this essay, if he was able to show me his theory and prove it as both available and effective.  He did a bang up job.

He made his work "availlable," as some argue, in response to Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.  He contrasts Stowe's technique that "privileges the reader's emotions" by structuring emotions of "self-congratulatory complacency and dehumanizing condescension" (192).  I didn't initially understand what O'Connell meant because I've never read Stowe's book.  After reading wikipedia's plot summary, I was enlightened to the fact that Stowe's technique is more outright.  Her content is specifically emotionally touching, whereas, Melville appeals to the reader's emotion by making all his characters very flawed.  His white characters are all racist, which our society, the "ideal reader's" society, would look down upon.  Delano is portrayed as stupid and Benito as a little crazy.  His black society is also a bit ruthless, somewhat out of necessity though.  It isn't that the reader does not feel bad for them, it just isn't the same kind of emotions that Stowe plays with.  He plays more with skepticism.  Just as Captain Delano is skeptical of Don Cereno's intentions, the reader is meant to feel skeptical of Delano, Cereno, and pretty much everyone else.

The availability and the "effectiveness," as our different types of criticism, overlap.  Melville is effective basically because he appeals to a different audience.  He appeals to the general populace because a reader at his time could have read his text as either for or against slavery (historical criticism).  Stowe's audience would have only appealed to the people that are into an antislavery message.  Melville can then be wider read and still get the chance to get his "ironic" point across. 

All that is left to address, then, is his "theory."  In short, his theory was to comment on "the North American conscience" at the time.  He wanted to point out subtle injustices in a different way than Stowe.  I will even go one step further than O'Connell in suggesting that "Benito Cereno" could possibly even send the readers at the time, even the ones who were strong supporters of slavery, subliminal messages about the injustices of slavery.  If you look at it from O'Connell's perspective, although he never explicitly says this, the slaves basically do what they have to to ensure their own freedom, something that almost anyone would fight for.  Think of the early Americans under British rule.  Unfair laws were placed on them and so they rose up, hence the Revolutionary War.  This story is no longer a story of slavery, it is a story of inprisonment agains one's will.  The blacks were prisoners, then they turned the tables making the Spaniards prisoners.  In the end, the blacks were prisoners again.  Both sides do what it takes to be in control of the situation, can you really blame them?

Enough of me talking, what do you think?  Do you agree with O'Connell?   

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