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February 6, 2007

Like Moby Dick, Yet Not

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

"Shiffman maintains that the reversal of conventional black-white symbolism in Moby Dick is applied also in Benito Cereno and is proof positive that white Cereno is an image of evil" (62).

I was so glad that Kaplan addressed this. At first I was worried that this wouldn't be brought up and it was definitely something I thought of while reading the story last week and I was curious for what kind of an explanation would be given on it. I thought it was interesting because sometimes it did seem as if Melville was trying to portray the white man as evil and the blacks as good, which did, of course, remind me of Moby Dick. Kaplan's point that this technique was used to further emphasize just how "black...may equal blacker" in this story does make sense to me, especially since I was trying to figure out why Melville would use the same contradiction between white and black as he did in Moby Dick. If he did I think that would have taken away from the effectiveness of it in his works, like he was overusing a technique. Also, remember that in Moby Dick, Melville spent an entire chapter dedicated to the whiteness of the whale, explaining how it really signified evil instead of good as usual. He wanted to be sure there was no confusion. This is not the case in "Benito Cereno" which I think further proves that his intention was not the same with the white-black symbolism.

Posted by LorinSchumacher at February 6, 2007 1:02 AM


Maybe Melville didn't care about "overusing" his technique? If it worked for him once, why not use it again?

However, I understand your point. There is a clear reversal of black and white as evil in the two works, probably so that they don't get confused with each other. Though, I'm just going with your portrayal of Moby Dick, since I myself have never read it.

Posted by: Valerie Masciarelli at February 8, 2007 10:35 AM

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