A Really Great Critical Piece and...Maybe We Are Getting This Stuff!

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"That is why I insist on calling it a mystery story-- for it is a detective story where the reader on reading and, crucially, rereading  the story has to learn not only to be the detective who could have solved the crime, but to decide what the crime was and who the real criminal is."

-From Charles Swann's "Whodunnit? Or, Who Did What? 'Benito Cereno' and the Politics of Narrative in Donald Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism page 311


I really liked Swann’s article, and like Greta, found it to be very helpful and well done.  I think that this article helped me most out of all we have read this semester in modeling the manner in which our casebook essays should be written.   It has shown me how more than one school of criticism can be effectively incorporated into a critical piece, how to include and support or refute other critical author’s ideas, and how to write a lengthy piece that still proves one main argument.  Also, this essay helped me to understand intertextuality, too.  I had thought that intertextuality was concerned mainly with comparing one work to another, but I really liked how Swann used conventions and characteristics of the entire mystery/detective story genre to make his points.

Also, I thought it was interesting that Swann discussed in his article what many of us brought up in class when we read “Benito Cereno”-having to reread the story, misconceptions about the plot and the characters, whether Melville was writing a story that supported racism or not, and reader-response both historically and today.  Maybe we are learning to be good literary critics after all!


See what others have to say about Swann's essay.


Greta Carroll said:

Erica, I’m glad Swann’s article helped you as much as it helped me : ). I like how you point out that he didn’t just compare one work to another, but focused on the conventions as well. This was one part of intertextualism I didn’t realize was a focus till I read the readings for this week. I also liked how he didn’t just relate “Benito Cereno” to one text but to many different ones. And since he focused on the literary conventions behind “Benito Cereno,” he was able to make some surprising comparisons which made sense the way he presented them. He also showed that you don’t just have to relate fiction to other fiction, after all, he related Benito Cereno to the historical document it was based on too.

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