Breast Feeding

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The title is simple and strange I know but talk about your hook. 

From Elizabeth Wright's "The New Psychoanalysis and Literary Criticism" in Keesey's Contexts for Criticism:

"This is no mere scene, but a Lacanian scenario, in which a demand for food is about to be transformed into a demand for love" (397).

The "this" in this quote refers to the scene in Benito Cereno where Delano sees the slave woman breast feeding her baby.  I thought that the connection Wright made between breast feeding and love was interesting.  I had never thought of this scene much except for the fact that this woman happens to be one of few, if not the only, woman that is mentioned in Melville's story.  This quote put me into a time machine and reminded me of How to Read Literature Like a Professor in which there is a whole chapter dedicated to communion.  Thanks to this quote, I made the connection between breast feeding, love, and communion.  Breast feeding would be one of the highest forms of communion for the loving mother is providing the infant with the necessary food for survival while simultaneously forming a strong bond with that infant.  I would call this kind of communion a spiritual communion (I believe I just invented that word) for only one of the beings involved is actually feeding, however, they are both sharing the eating experience while also establishing a deep and important spiritual bond.  

Why did Delano notice this woman?  I believe that he noticed her for several reasons: she's a woman in a sea of men, she's exposed, he loves the innocence of this relationship.  The first two reasons are self-explanitory so I won't go into them.  The last one is a little more in depth, thus needing to be analyzed.  A few paragraphs before this quote Wright said, "Delano's refusal to see difference is grounded in an idealization of another's incompleteness: he loves Bobo's naivete as image of the lack of difference, as the completeness which Delano himself wants to possess" (396).  Although she's talking about a different scene, this quote reveals a lot about the story.  On the ship, Delano sees what he wants to see. Before I mistook his bad interpretations of events as sheer stupidity, however, if looked at him like he was a human, it makes sense that he ignores those signs for they would seem unlikely.  A white man at that time would not want to think of a group of African Americans being in charge so his mind finds ways around it.  This is why he notices the little things such as Bobo sharpening the razor blade and never thinks that this could be an intimidation factor and not just a nice gesture to make sure his boss gets the closest shave possible.  The woman breast feeding was just another depiction of his own utopian society, the way Delano thought things should be working aboard the ship.

Did you think of Delano's lack of noticing all the signs as stupidity or as a case of seeing what he wanted to see?  Why?

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1 Comments

I think his lack of seeing the signs may have been a bit of both. Perhaps stupidity is too strong a word, but he was most definitly naive in his perceptions of what was going on. I think you hit it right when you say that "he ignores the signs for they would seem unlikely." It would be incredibly unlikely that a captain of a slave ship would be taken hostage by his slaves, at least in the mind of a white man. His ideas and perceptions of the black man are jaded. He feels that they aren't smart enough to accomplish something of this magnitude, so yes, I think Delano missed the signs, partly because he didn't want to believe something like this could happen, he would rather believe that Cereno was at fault or a madman, this made more sense of his ideals.

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