A Little Fun and a Little Analysis

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“The ship seems unreal; these strange costumes, gestures, and faces, but a shadowy tableau just emerged from the deep, which directly must receive back what it gave.”


-From Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” in Donald Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism,  page 491


When I saw that we were going to read a story by Herman Melville, I was immediately reminded of a memory from my childhood.  One day, I decided to read the first chapter of Moby Dick that I found online, just to see if I liked it, and I printed it.  Later that day, my younger sister found the chapter (without the title or author) in our desk drawer.  She brought it to me and said in mystified voice with such a serious face, “Erica, look at this.”  I, of course knew what it was, but played along wondering what she thought it was.  She said, “I think Daddy wrote this, and it must be really good because it has tons of big words I don’t know in it.”  She thought that my father had written it because he liked to write, especially poetry, for fun.  It was too funny!


 However, as I read this story, I could see that she was right-Melville does use tons of “big” words.  Now, though, I can further appreciate it.  Although the quote above that I chose does not have any especially large words, I really liked the depth of this description.  Out of all of the descriptions of the San Dominick (and there was at least a page’s worth), I thought this sentence really painted the picture of the ship for me.  Melville speaks of it almost as if it were a ghost ship, and when we see the captain and those on board, we can see why.  It represents the ghost of a man, the ghostly souls of the people on board who lived in cramped filth only to be sent to similarly terrible conditions, in many cases, once they arrived on land, and the ghostly darkness of colonialism and slavery represented in this story.


It actually reminded me a lot of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.  Both stories were  and dealt with the dark views of Colonialism and Imperialism related to Africa.  Both also offer confusing accounts that leave the reader debating the status quo in the story, and at times, in their own lives.  These are stories that are concerned with "things falling apart," as Chinua Achebe titles his novel about colonialism--preconcieved notions concerning the status of the two races and their classes within them are turned inside-out and upside-down.   


Also, take a look at our blogging carnival on this subject: Colonialism Carnival 


See what others have to say about Melville’s novella.

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