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Did Melville Expect more from Readers?

"The narrator is the shadow figure in "Benito Cereno" who operates in the background, stirring the pot and adding murkiness that appears unnecessary to the plot (unless a crucial plot element is seen to be the creation of confusion, not just in Delano, but in the reader as well). (O'Connell 191)

O'Connell explains eloquently how Melville's narrator was the perfect manipulator in this text. The narrator is the "shadow figure" playing the reader along on a journey where the outcome seems so sure. From an historical point of view a reader could be fooled by the narration, because this would have been a time when there were people who thought it was okay to regard African Americans in this light, or at least would have believed that perhaps Melville, himself, held such regard.

This essay showed the astuteness that a reader must have when coming to a text. "Benito Cereno" is a great example of a text that could, and has been, misinterpreted by the reader, if the reader is not looking closely at the text and reading "wisely."


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Comments (3)

Katie Vann:

Mara, I think you touched upon a point that many of us have brought up because I think we all were a little fooled, if not completely tricked, by the narrator in this story. Check out Michelle's blog where she talks about the same idea concerning the narrator. Were you fooled by the narrator in this story? Did you go back and look over some of the different sections once you realized what the role of the narrator was? If so, how did your interpretation change?

Greta Carroll:

I agree with everything you said Mara. And when I finished the story and then read O’Connell’s essay I realized that I hadn’t even been cognizant by how much the narrator was affecting my view of the story. It really teaches the reader a lesson about taking anything for granted.

One of the things i love so much about this story is that while everything plays out in front of your eyes, you are never quite sure how they will end. I think that Melville was hoping to that he could expect more of the reader, but at the same time working to keep them from trusting their own gut feelings. I attached a link to my blog about this topic for your to peruse if you wish. I do think that Melville wanted to do exactly what OConnell stated at the end of this quote, keep everyone guessing.

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