Herman Melville is a colossal giant among literary figures. I have tried to find credible digital sources on his life and works. I have listed four as being primarily good resources or things that are being done in the digital humanities that should not be overlooked. Since Melville’s real credit and fame was granted to him in the early twentieth century, there are a few resources out there that can help put his works and life into perspective for any level of scholar.
The first digital database, “The Life and Works of Herman Melville,” has a good deal of biographical information, letters, and criticisms. However, the textual criticism could have been delved into a lot more. The site contains links to all of Melville’s works in electronic format for download. Also, it has links to Melville’s letters to Hawthorne, which are very important to understanding Melville’s financial stress and what he felt about his own work. There are links to different websites about 19th century writers as well. With that in mind, this is a good starting tool, but not a definitive way to do all of one’s research.
“Melville Electronic Library,” or “MEL,” is a database that has plans to be huge in scope. However, the website is not finished yet. What it does contain are some of the pages from “Billy Budd”—Melville’s posthumously published novella—which MEL hopes will soon turn out to be the manuscript in its entirety. Also, MEL is using a tool called TextLab to show the changes in the original manuscript. Any person can go and access a video that shows scholars using TextLab, to laymen, in order to show how they are working on “Billy Budd.” This database seems like it will be monumental in scope; however, at the current time there is only access to some gallery photos, a few pages of manuscript, and many other pages explaining what will be in that section of MEL when it is completed.
If one is just looking for the manuscript of Typee, there is a project at Virginia “Herman Melville’s Typee,” that gives a reader a look at the manuscripts. This, like MEL, is a vehicle by John Bryant. It must be accessed through an institution. Thus, the main “catch” is a person has to pay money for it. However, it is incredibly detailed and an excellent source to look at the actual manuscripts. The site contains four introductory essays by John Bryant about the making of the digital resource. It has two frames, which show the picture of each page of the manuscript and a bottom frame that allows the viewer to see what words are crossed out and omitted, or additions that were made. It is really great to have such a source that allows readers to have instant access to it. Before strides like this in digital humanities, one would literally have to go to the specific library that manuscript is in and look over it briefly.
The final database is American National Biography Online. The biography on Melville is well done. It goes through his early period in life—including his time aboard whaling vessels. However, it goes into great detail about each of his works. It also explains his relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne and talks about their various correspondences. Also, the database has a comprehensive section on how Melville’s success was revived and the people that noticed his genius. What is very beneficial too, is that American National Biography Online also incorporates a bibliography with—what they believe—the most important sources for biography on Herman Melville. Unfortunately, this site is also only accessible through an institution as well. With that in mind, this is a really good source to get a good deal of information on Melville that will also lead a person to better ones.
In closing, there should be far more access to free websites on Melville. For example, a student going to Yale or Harvard has many more resources than a student at a smaller school. Thus, I have tried to provide what I can that is free to the public—the texts, letters, etc. When it comes to digital manuscripts and biographies, both of the aforementioned sites require payment or institutional access. I do think that “Melville Electronic Library” will end up being the most vital resource on this list if the website follows up on all its plans. However, “Herman Melville’s Typee” is probably the most fun and interesting of the four. One could play for hours looking at the manuscript and its translation.
American National Biography Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Aug. 2013. <http://www.anb.org>.
Melville Electronic Library. Hofstra University, n.d. Web. 7 Aug. 2013. <http://mel.hofstra.edu/>.
Herman Melville’s Typee A Fluid Text Edition. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Aug. 2013. <http://rotunda.upress.virginia.edu/melville/default.xqy>.
The Life and Works of Herman Melville. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Aug. 2013. <http://www.melville.org>.
This is an annotated bibliography for those interested in literary theory. The purpose of this project is to make it easier to find scholarly databases that contain fundamental criticism.
American National Biography Online, Oxford University Press, Web. 1st August 2013.
For any historicist, American National Bibliography online is well worth using. Almost all the Early American Authors are there. There is an extensive biography on William Bradford. It explains his early works as a historian; so, that can be crucial to a historic outlook on a text. It also contains a long biography on Lydia Maria Child, who is, honestly, just now being studied again. The iography goes into fairly good detail about her book Hobomok—which involved interracial love btween a woman and a Native American. It’s nearly impossibly not to find an author—even from Early American literature—on this database. For Historicists, this is a vital tool. Historicism puts works of literature into the context of what was/is happening at the time. Furthermore, historicism uses the author’s life as a backbone for textual analysis of prose, poetry, and drama. This database, as well, needs institutional access. It is lamentable that many high school students can’t use this resource. It’s very helpful in engaging in literary criticism—Stephen Greenblat would be of note—but it would be a comfort to know that developing minds could read it too. Most people have little or no patience at all for long biographies—unless they are used for historical context in higher education.
Gender Studies Databases, EBSCOhost, Web. 1st August 2013
This database, hosted through EBSCO, contains a great deal of content on LGBT theory applied to many literary texts. However, the main reason this website is so enticing to a student in American literature, is that it applies these theories to pre-Civil War texts. For example, one only need to punch in Melville to retrieve a few solid academic entries ranging from homosexuality in “Billy Budd,” to “heterotopia.” So, although some of the resources come up with few results, they are peer reviewed, scholarly works. Interestingly enough, there are twenty-sic articles on Gender Studies about early American literature, alone. However, there are considerably less results for other early writer; and, at other times, no entries at all. With that in mind, this is a good apparatus to use for LGBT or Gender Studies. It’s almost a springboard to delve into so much more. All the articles have extensive bibliographies. This helps any academic find many paths to this particular literary criticism. Also, this particular literature is not typically looked at through this critical lens. It provides a different view at the literature we have come to know.</p>
International Women’s Studies Database, EBSCOhost, Web. 1st August 2013
This is a fairly good starting point to find feminist criticism on many texts that pertain to Puritan literature. Even more so, there are quite a few academic journal articles dealing with a Women’s Study perspective on the Puritans alone. It certainly behooves a pupil to venture into it, because there seems to be more specific feminist criticism on this database than the others. The Women’s Studies criticism is, of course, in the forefront. This website, too, is published an EBSCO vehicle,; but, it sort everything one needs for these theories and criticisms into a neat package. Something that is rather interesting, is the fact that if one searches for “Walt Whitman,” there are a host of different articles about Women’s Studies and LGBT criticisms, but about ninety percent of them are written by men. This, in some ways, makes the database more diverse. Therefore, the apparatus is useful in really engaging in arguments that are going on about Early American literature in these fields. The database is highly recommended for anyone who wants to delve into the nature of Women’s Studies—which has become more and more important in the last twenty years.
JSTOR, JSTOR.org, Web. 1st August 2013
JSTOR is a beast when it comes to finding theoretical criticisms on just about anything. If one does a sear for Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, it is only necessary to fill in a blank. For example, there are countless Derridian interpretations, and Foucault viewpoints; everything ranging from post-structuralism to feminism. There is a plethora of knowledge in this database. There are post-colonial arguments in articles concerned with the Puritans and its giants—William Bradford, John Winthrop, etc. There is a great deal of work done in the sociological field of Cultural Studies that use Pierre Bordieu’s essay, “Distinction,” to show different class and socio-economic issues. Of course, Marxism from Barthes to Althusser is represented by this database. There are many articles of Marxist thought dealing with the ideologies of the Puritans, Melville, Dickinson, and Whitman. Marxism is one of theories favorite tools and it works incredibly well applied to early American literature. To use this database, you must either pay or have access from some institution. For most scholars, this is not a problem due to access through a university. It is a great database for literary criticism—possibly the best this author has access to.
20th-Century Literary Criticism Gale Learning. Web. 1st August 2013.
Literature Criticism Online is a database that deals with Twentieth Century literary criticism. Notwithstanding, these theories are applied to numerous texts that entered into the canon starting back to 1400. In fact there is a very long edited book that critiques everything from 1400 to 1800. The layout is nice and has pictures of the original text. As far as literary criticism is concerned, there is a vault of different theories and criticisms. The articles are peer reviewed, academic, trustworthy writings. There is a good amount on Melville and Hawthorne—which is not uncommon—including studies about Marxist readings of “Bartleby, the Scrivener : A Story of Wall Street.” There are articles that assiduously look at Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in a diverse amount of microscopic views. These include, racial studies, Marxism, historicism, and cultural studies. Furthermore, one can find book length chapters on Charles Brockden Brown and Lydia Maria Child. Thus, the database is a wonderful tool for looking straight for criticism. It saves the student time and shortens the path to finding the articles he or she need. However, it is also only available through use at a university or other institution.
ABSTRACT: This annotated bibliography serves the purpose of letting students find sources that are helpful. For example, these books and articles deal more with the typology and ideology of the Puritans. This is necessary for any person that wants to study William Bradford or Puritan literature
American National Biography Online. American National Biography Online. Web. 23 July 2013.
This is an essential database for biographical information on William Bradford. It is a necessity to understand his life and Puritan ideology to write anything about him. The database goes into detail of Bradford’s growth from a farmer to his eventual religious descent. Bradford went to meetings with Reverend Richard Clyfton. Bradford’s biography is especially helpful with grasping the literary value that exists in Of Plymouth Plantation. American National Bibliography Online says: The designation “Pilgrims” derives from Bradford’s poignant memory (echoing Hebrews 11:13-16) of leaving Leiden, “that goodly and pleasante citie, which had been their resting place near 12 years; but they knew they were pilgrimes, and looked not much on those things, but lift up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest cuntrie, and quieted their spirits.” The passage, typical of Bradford’s best prose, expresses his sense of the dependence of human actions and affairs on divine providence” (Web). Of course the passage elaborates on divine providence; yet, the bibliography gives an account of William Bradford’s life that is incredibly important to any scholar. One must know the man to delve forward into research about the Pilgrims.
Anderson, Douglas. William Bradford’s Books: Of Plimmoth Plantation and the Printed Word. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2003. Print.
Douglas Anderson’s, William Bradford’s Books is a wealth of information when it comes to understanding Bradford’s “agenda.” Anderson points out problems with newer translations of the text. This is quite interesting, because almost any undergraduate reads a modernized version of the text. In fact, many of us do. Anderson’s book delves into the constraints modernity inflicts in Of Plymouth Plantation; or, as it was originally spelled, Of Plimmoth Plantation. Anderson believes that the translated text should be eschewed. He says: “As these chapters repeatedly emphasize, Of Plimmoth Plantation is the product of a particular literary world and rewards most generously those who approach its language with the practices and expectations of that world firmly in mind” (vii). Thus, he does analyze the text more from a manuscript–or what is left of it–point of view. Furthermore, he doesn’t judge the work with any presentism and expands upon the ideological views of Bradford and the Pilgrims that followed him. He does this with great respect and makes this resource a plethora of knowledge in Puritan scholarship.
Bradford, William. Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1953. Print.
This is the primary work of William Bradford. This is the sine qua non of the history of the Puritans–even more so the Pilgrims that landed at Plymouth Rock. Bradford’s account of what is often considered the first book of American History. Yet, it should also be understood that this is an early look at American literature. The very pathos that Bradford puts into his account of the Pilgrim’s voyage, and settlement of America, is truly literary. Yet, the ideals of the Puritans and their typology, makes the book seem cruel. A reader sees the beginnings of American genocide, hatred, and flawed ideologies at work. In this capacity it is very important to keep Walter Wenska’s article on Puritan typology in mind. Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation is a necessity for any scholar to read to understand Puritan values and ideologies. It has been noted as a quintessential reading of Early American literature from many early scholars, such as Cotton Mather.
Cullen, Jim. The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea That Shaped a Nation. Oxford [England]: Oxford UP, 2004. Print.
Jim Cullen’s 2003 work deals with the “American Dream” starting with the Puritans through present times. Cullen expands on many Puritanical subjects, such as the Antinomian crisis, Calvinism, religious tolerance, and the splits and conflicts among the Puritans. Of course, his delving into Calvinism is very proper; for the Puritans did believe in a predetermined destiny. Therefore, their ideology is based on the fact that people are already chosen to go to Heaven, Furthermore, it expands on William Bradford as he believes that the term “Puritanism” is “lacking” (14) and says that it encompasses much more than the usual suspects, such as Bradford. It further goes on to posit that the Puritans were so concerned with religious separatism that they thought their children would be corrupted if they stayed in England (16). However, the book uses Puritanism and Bradford as a stepping stone for what comes of the American Dream–which is very violent. He examines the early American period, through Manifest Destiny, and even to the present. This is necessary for any reader to fully grasp the central ideas of Puritanism, and how we hold on to those ideals to this day. As Cullen says: [T]he American Dream retains enormous relevance and appeal in contemporary America” (191). This book illuminates how this has happened and further fits into the American notion that “God is on our side.”
Wenska, Walter P. “Bradford’s Two Histories: Pattern and Paradigm in ‘Of Plymouth Plantation.'” Early American Literature 13.2 (1978): 151-64. Print.
Walter P. Wenska examines Puitan typology and ideology in this article. It’s a perfect resource for knowing how the Pilgrims felt about the rights to land and the Native Americans they encountered. The article is an excellent tool to discover how Wenska’s beliefs on how William Bradford dealt with Puritan ideologies and, as mentioned before, typologies which is helpful to getting to the core of what being a Pilgrim meant. There is no more in depth journal entry that I have found on these beliefs than Wenska’s article—even for it’s brief page numbers. It is thought provoking, well written, and certainly useful for understanding all the ideals in Of Plymouth Plantation. Wenska challenges other scholars and really puts a new foundation of Puritan typologies in the conversation in academia by reading the book in a way that is not oppressive or dismissive of the Puritan lifestyle; nor the Puritanical ideology that accompanies it. Out of all of the foci the article studies, it certainly sheds light on Puritanical typology.
ABSTRACT: The following sources show the publications of “Benito Cereno” in their various forms. Also, some of the works will be the post-colonial and post-modern theories and theorists, which will be incorporated into textual analysis of the novella. Furthermore, it is necessary to use some of Melville’s biography, due to the fact that he did live with an African tribe. This sheds light on “Benito Cereno” as a whole. Also, a study of Homi K. Bhabha and Giles Deleuze is imperative to showing how mimicry, hybridity, and multiplicity plays out through the work.
Bhabha, Homi K. “Signs Taken for Wonders.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Boston: Blackwell, 2004. 1167-84. Print.
This source is invaluable because it covers the theories of Homi K. Bhabha that are crucial to understanding “Benito Cereno.” In it, Bhabha explains the theory of hybridity and of mimicry, which are both essential for critical analysis the text. Mimicry deals with colonialism in Melville’s novella because the theory itself is applied to Babo and the other slaves. For example, mimicry is used when the colonized (i.e. the slaves) are forced to try to be exactly like the colonists—they copy the people who are in power. Because of this copying, the slaves reverse the idea of who is in control. Hybridity is a fairly broad term, but Bhabha uses it to show that eventually colonized people will challenge what the people who colonize them are doing—not everything is a universal. If these theories are not taken into account—or not understood—the message of blackness and whiteness is lost in the text, as it pertains to slavery and how it operates in different societies. Bhabha’s ideas create a framework for how the book is read through a post-colonial view. He is a monumental figure in literary theory and his critical interpretations apply so much to the novella, and make it even a richer text.
Buell, Lawrence. “Melville and the Question of American Decolonization.” American Literature 64.2 (1992): 215-37. Print.
The premise of this article is a close look at many of Melville’s texts and how they relate to the idea of decolonization. Lawrence Buell posits that Melville was deeply concerned with colonization throughout his works. He also examines “Benito Cereno” and the idea that Captain Delano is a “Yankee” and Benito Cereno is an utter fool; thus making Delano out to be “good.” His argument is that Cereno is from Spain, which makes him a Southerner, and therefore is allegory for the slave trade and abolitionists. This is a particularly important idea because it sheds light on Melville’s own feelings–it has quite a bit of biographical information–and also deals with some of the theories of Homi K. Bhabha. Yet, this argument will be rebutted to reveal that there is more going on than just an allegory for the South and the North. In fact, Delano is really no better than Cereno. He, too, should be seen as a bumbling fool walking amongst the ship. It is a wonderful idea to think that this boiling hatred can be seen as a simple allegory, but it is not the way that the text should be read. Instead, its purpose is to show that there is much more going on in the text than such a simple conclusion and that jumping to that particular conclusion is denying a host of other themes and signifiers that run throughout the work. These are the ideology of what the West calls barbaric and also the ideology of what is civilized.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. “A Thousan Paleaus.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Boston: Blackwell, 2004. 378-87. Print.
Deleuze and Guattari show how the “colonized”–via Homi K. Bhabha–are actually rhizomatic multiplicities. It will also help prove that Captain Delano and Benito Cereno are not. Rhizomatic, in layman’s terms, should bring to light the fact that some subjects have no genealogies—their agency is not universal, but instead spreads out like a potato’s rhizomes. This lets the idea of being a multiplicity come into illumination during the text. Subjects can be more than just one thing; subjects can be more than one thing or person at once—they are constantly changing. Thus, Babo and his companions mimic being the slaves when they are actually not. However, being that they are multiplicities, they go through being slaves, to not being slaves, to being slaves again—or in Babo’s case, dead—during the novella. Oppositely, Captain Delano and Benito Cereno are not rhizomatic; they both believe in a universal which is the slave trade. If one believes in a universal, it is nearly impossible to also be rhizomatic or a multiplicity because the subject is enveloped in his or her own ideology. As Deleuze and Guattari point out: “There is no ideology and there never has been.”
Freeburg, Christopher. Melville and the Idea of Blackness. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2012. Print.
This book has a chapter that specifically deals with “Benito Cereno” and regulating the mind. It will be useful, because it expands on the racial tension through the novel. It also gives character analysis of Babo, Captain Delano, and Benito Cereno. Freeburg goes into detail about how Melville juxtaposes typical feelings of “whiteness” and “blackness.” Since this research is dealing with these two topics specifically—and the ideas of colonization—it becomes a crucial source to use for any context or discourse. If one does not study Freeburg’s use of these terms, it is almost impossible to comprehend the other theories that come up in this bibliography. He sees “blackness”—not as allegory—but through a sociopolitical view. As mentioned before, Buell finds “Benito Cereno” completely allegorical, whereas Freeburg has a stronger view of the impact of colonization, mimicry, and hybridity. His textual interpretation makes one understand more fully that Melville is concerned with all of these social controversies of the time. Furthermore, he argues that Melville’s use of blackness is not always racial through all his books. This is a versatile source for any academic that wants to work on colonization and racial tension.
Melville, Herman. “Benito Cereno.” 2007. Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007. 2405-61. Print.
This is the actual text which I will be analyzing. Thus, it is the fundamental piece to the project. The product of this is that the novella shows the claim, which I posit: What is considered civilized and barbaric is Western society is false and skewed much of the time. Of course, it is completely necessary to read due to the fact that one would not understand plot, significance, themes, etc. More so, it is a text that shows Melville’s deep concentration on slavery, colonization, and what is right and what is wrong. Melville, being an American Romantic, was very concerned with many injustices. This is seen throughout most of his works. However, Melville did receive criticism for departing from his particular philosophical style during his later works. “Benito Cereno” is still a philosophical work in the sense that it explores what Melville has always explored: Is there enough good in this world to replace what we find evil. Thus, the discussion used in this annotated bibliography can only be understood if the novella is read with these other sources as well.
When one looks into the ideological beliefs and religiosity of Puritan writing, an immense amount of these are found in William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation. The book is what has been hailed as “a mercantile epic” whose “fundamental pattern . . .is that of the American success story” (Wenska 152). However, there is this proverbial “God is on our side” ideology to the work; something that seems to ring true in American culture today. Bradford and the other Puritans feel that the new land of Plymouth is a divine right; it is the Promised Land given to them as a new covenant with God.
Bradford was raised to be a farmer but increasingly became interested in religion, and eventually met “Reverend Richard Clyfton, nonconformist rector at Babworth, Nottinghamshire, ten miles distant, and Clyfton’s preaching led the young man to join the dissenters”. Bradford’s journal shows the ideologies of his group and the religious fundamentalism that drives these people to engage in the New World the way they do.
To really get a grasp on this idea, looking at Bradford’s journal shows how the Puritans thought about what Early America was—a promised land. Of course, there are many sermons and texts that can be used to further study this Puritan typology; but the scope of this essay is too brief to go into them. Bradford’s book is a wealth of information.
The trials and tribulations of the Pilgrims coming to the New World are very much akin to those Moses faced in the desert. Especially Bradford’s account of finally pulling into safe shore.
However, the “God is on our side” ideology runs rampant through the text. So much so that it seems sadistically comical in Of Plymouth Plantation. After the Pilgrims voyage, there is a series of strange events that now most people may construe as illogical and cruel. The Pilgrims end up stealing corn from the Native Americans and Bradford immediately thanks the Lord for providing it for them: “[T]hey digging up, found in them divers fair Indian baskets filled with corn, and some in ears, fair and good, of divers colors, which seemed to them a very goodly sight” (Bradford 65). Then, like a Moses, Bradford espouses that: “[L]ike the men from Eshcol, carried with them the fruits of the land and showed their brethren; of which, and their return, they were marvelously glad and their hearts encouraged” (Bradford 67).
The reference to Eshcol, as Bradford notes, is from Numbers 23-6. Numbers is the fourth book in the Bible and deals with God’s covenant for the Israelites to gain access into the Promised Land. These verses function rhetorically as a way for the Pilgrims to justify stealing—which is even stranger due to the fact that not stealing is a direct commandment from the Judeo-Christian god.
Furthermore, this religiosity is conflated by the fact that—by “God’s Providence”—the colonists had guns and the Indians did not (69). As he points out a page later: “Thus it pleased God to vanquish their enemies and give them deliverance; and by His special providence so to dispose that not any one of them were either hurt or hit […] Afterwards they gave God solemn thanks and praise for their deliverance” (70). This, therefore, conflates and intensifies the ideological belief that the Indians are inferior from the beginning. What is so “sadistically comical” about these encounters is this is not even the Pilgrims’ land.
The Puritanical viewpoint can be seen as the sine qua non of conservative religion that even one sees today at times; that there must be some God given right that America is a Promised Land to Americans. One can see how Manifest Destiny, the current heated battle of immigration, and the fact that presidents still profess to being religious has integrated through this culture. The Puritan ideology that Bradford uses—that the colonists are chosen—is still part of American discourse today and has been throughout this nation’s history.
“American National Biography Online.” American National Biography Online. Web. 23 July 2013.
Bradford, William. Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1953. Print.
Wenska, Walter P. “Bradford’s Two Histories: Pattern and Paradigm in ‘Of Plymouth Plantation.'” Early American Literature 13.2 (1978): 151-64. Print.
With the impending pressure of a civil war, Herman Melville produced a novella, Benito Cereno, which captures the racial tensions during the antebellum. The story exists at the very rim of what we call chaos and questions everything that whites believe to be civilized. Melville begs the question: How is it that we are smarter than what we call barbaric? Babo, the leader of the slaves being transported, is certainly smarter than Captain Delano or Don Benito. For the colonizer to bring into question everything a nation thinks about the edge of the “civilized” humanity, it becomes a reversal of the intelligent and the naïve. It is this very reversal that is seen throughout Benito Cerino—the group being colonized is not barbaric and the colonizers are not intelligent. This story can then be read as allegory for the racial tensions of the time.
Homi K. Bhabha, a well-known theorist of post colonialism, has an idea that applies here. The scope of this essay will only allow me to examine it briefly; but it is worthwhile to understand its uses in Melville’s novella. For example, Bhabha’s theory of hybridity is a perfect tool for the story’s question of slavery. Hybridity is “the revaluation of the assumption of discriminatory identity effects” (1175). In short, just because it’s 1799 and the slave trade is a universal in the west, it is not one for those being colonized. Slavery cannot be “Truth” if it contradicts the ingrained ideas of black culture.
Bhabha makes reference to Indians being given a translated version of the bible; however, they are not able to accept it as a universal Truth because they would have to eat flesh (1177). However, slavery is a much more blatant form of hybridity. It is a truth to white normativity at the time the story was written because the African race was considered inferior. As Delano thinks: “Most negroes are natural valets and hairdressers […] Captain Delano took to negroes, not philanthropically, but genially, just as other men to Newfoundland dogs” (Melville 2435). This shows Delano’s degradation of Africans to beasts even though he is the one being utterly fooled by the slave Babo.
An incredibly interesting event in the novella appears when Delano spies a Spaniard tying knots. He goes forward to speak with the man who “looked like an Egyptian priest, making Gordian knots for the temple of Ammon” (2429). Delano is puzzled—as normal—about the intricacies of the knot. He is told to: “Undo it, cut it, quick” (2429), but gives it to one of the slaves instead. It’s rational to conclude that Delano should understand that Alexander the Great “slipped the Gordian knot” by cutting it with his sword and then went on to conquer Asia. This small scene is an undeniable allusion to one of the greatest warmongers and territorial collectors of all time, and Melville throws the audience a hug, proverbial bone by alluding to some of the most savage colonization—just as the slave trade was—in the history of mankind.
The phrase “follow your leader” (Melville 2453), which is told in Benito Cereno’s deposition, is about as colonial as it gets. Babo is not some dumb beast and slavery is not a universal “Truth.” Furthermore, Babo’s comment about bones is the most illuminating speech on racism in the novella (2453). He realizes all bones are white, and ironically tells the Spaniards sine the bones are of the said color they must be from a white man. This plays on the notion of whiteness as an internal quality. For, once skin is removed, Babo and his companions have the exact same color skeletons.
Benito Cereno is all about imperialism and post-colonialism sheds more light on the work which, in itself, reveals the very nature of what is “civilized” and what is “barbaric.” The novella takes the very fears of the time period and asks the reader to question what is right and what is wrong.
Bhabha, Homi K. “Distinction.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 1167-1184. Print.
Melville, Herman. “Benito Cereno.” Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007. 2405-2461. Print.