Isn't It Ironic?

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"Sprawling at her lapped breasts, was her wide-awake fawn, stark naked, its black little body lifted...its hands like two paws, clambering upon her..."

-Melville

 

This is a striking image and speaks volumes about Captain Delano's character. The use of "its," "paws," and "fawn" suggest his true view of African Americans. His supposed "good heart" views them as nothing more than animals. I could never imagine describing a mother and child as Delano did. Yet he uses animal comparisons throughout the story, especially comparisons to dogs. And isn't it ironic he chose the most loyal of domesticated pets to compare Babo to? Melville's story is a great example of a work dripping with irony.

3 Comments

Derek Tickle said:

I was surprised at how "Beneto Cereno" viewed African American people. I found it to be very demoting and racial. I agree with you that much irony can be found in the text, but why does Melville use so many animal references?

Greta Carroll said:

The quote you picked really struck me too, Michelle. And one can really see the narrator going to work in this scene too, after all the narrator seems to think Delano’s view of this mother and child is ok. As to Derek’s question, perhaps Melville uses animal references because animals are something that most humans really believe themselves superior to in every way, and it is this exact same superiority that Delano feels over the slaves. He literally views them as animals; he sees them as things to smile at benevolently when they behave, and things to be forced into submission when they misbehave.

james lohr said:

It does make you a little sick when reading certain passages in this work. But if you think about it, it makes sense that in order to keep someone as a slave, to take them from their homes, to beat them like animals, one has to look at those people like animals. This practice is as old as war, to make it easier to kill another person, each side tries to make the others seem subhuman. By doing so, the theory is that it lessens the guilt of hurting another person. You are just hurting something that is less than human.

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james lohr on Isn't It Ironic?: It does make you a little sick
Greta Carroll on Isn't It Ironic?: The quote you picked really st
Derek Tickle on Isn't It Ironic?: I was surprised at how "Beneto