February 4, 2007

The truth behind the mask...or story as the case may be

In his essay "Herman Melville and the American Nation Sin: The Meaning of 'Benito Cereno,'" Kaplan trys to convince his readers that Melville's intention was to tell of the events that happened prior to the writing of the story. He states that "'Benito Cereno' was written at the mid-point of the hottest decade of the anti-slavery struggle prior to the Civil War, when to many the conflict seemed both irrepressible and impending" (59). He goes on to explain the different examples that may have helped Melville to write his story such as the writing of a mutiny by the real Captain Amasa Delano or even the stories of the slaves that were aboard the ships Amistad and Creole.

While I find this information interesting, I can't say that it seemed very criticle of the story that was being told. Once Kaplan gave the background information of the short story he then went into what I felt was a close reading at times and at other times a compare and contrast to other stories or events where Melville pulled information to write his story. I didn't find anything in the essay to suggest to me that he found the exact intent on why Melville chose the things he chose to write about. Sure the background information about the slave uprising and mutinies at sea were eye opening, but that may not be the reason that he wrote the short story.

To me it seemed as if Kaplan was still questioning Melville's intent at the end which is the very thing that he was attempting to prove in the first place. I know that there can be no simple answer to the why an author writes something unless the author has given a why in the first place. In the long run, all I can gather from reading this essay and the short story is that Melville was telling a story that had already been told by another author. Melville's writing has obviously made more of an impact that what Delano wrote, however the original idea was not his it was someone else's. I'm not taking anything away from Melville because I loved Moby Dick, but if his intent was just to tell this story in a different manner from the person that wrote it previously I can honestly say I'm not impressed.

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

Posted by Tiffany Brattina at February 4, 2007 9:17 PM | TrackBack

Thank you! Another person who thought that the background information was just that...background information. As I read it, I thought, "Um...yeah...that's nice Kaplan". Although interesting, it didn't exactly hold the key to the "meaning" of the story.

Posted by: Nessa at February 4, 2007 10:32 PM

You summed up in one sentence what Kaplan spent forever trying to say. He could have just said it related to slavery, which I'm sure some of Melville's writing did, but if we want to research the historical, why not actually research Melville himself?

Posted by: Erin at February 5, 2007 12:24 PM

Erin, a short summary is certainly useful, but it's not a substitute for all the work the original author did, which helps the reader to write the summary (and convinces the reader that the essay has a point worth summarizing).

Recall that I've incidated that critcism is not a collection of facts that one KNOWS; it is rather a set of things that one DOES.

What does Kaplan do in this essay that might help you write literary criticism in the future?

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at February 5, 2007 12:55 PM

Kaplan was trying to point out that what Melville wrote about in the story was no coincidence. By providing the background info and doing the close readings, Kaplan was trying to point out that Melville was making a statement about the inferiority and evilness of blacks at a time when the abolitionist movement was really growing stronger. That was Melville's intention when writing the story, and that is the intention that Kaplan is trying to prove is real. He needed the background information and the close readings to prove his points...that is what literary critics do.

Posted by: Lorin at February 6, 2007 12:36 AM

Dr. Jerz - I think that his research of the period was helpful and something that I might use in the future. The only thing that I felt the piece lacked was more connections to the text. I think that I would try to use the background information and the text more to help make my point. I attempted to do this in my paper, but I'm not so sure that I had success with this.

Posted by: Tiffany at February 8, 2007 12:04 AM

I think Dr. Jerz nailed it. Something tells me that Vanessa and I are going to be in tussle tonight. It's not about what one knows, we need to look at what Gilman did in her lifetime. Overall, she was depressed, she struggled with her marriages and her life, and she committed suicide when she was 75 years old. Tiffany, THAT is how we can make connections to the text! We cannot make far fetched assumptions to the text, and really, the only one who knows the true meaning to the story, Vanessa, is the author who wrote it. Our job is to try to figure out what they possibly were thinking when they wrote it. All we have is the history, the words, and the AUTOBIOGRAPHY that Gilman wrote on the struggles of her own life!

Posted by: Jason Pugh at February 8, 2007 12:11 PM

Jay, I can't believe you said "tussle." That's all I wanted to say. Hope everyone is having a great night and sleeping lots for me since I won't be any time soon!

Posted by: Lorin at February 22, 2007 2:40 AM
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