"Benito Cereno" by Herman Melville.

Essay by vbusloviCollege, UndergraduateA-, May 2003

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The novella Benito Cereno has been a topic of controversy amongst several critics. In their perspectives, some differ and others coincide on themes in Benito Cereno. The theme that we are concerned with is if violence, even if it was for a worthy cause, was justified in Benito Cereno. Violence, as depicted by these analysts was used as a median to control slaves and alternate subordination in the story. Several critics, such as Joseph Schiffman, Charles Swann, Eric Sundquist, and Kermit Vanderbilt assert this issue. This paper will analyze these most relevant critics and their positions on this theme in the story.

One of the pro-justification critics for instance, Schiffman, justifies the violence by justifying Babo's position. He quotes Williams to assert his own position, Williams says, "Babo, after all, as perhaps his name suggests, is just an animal, a mutinous baboon."(32) Schiffman then, contradicting Williams, states his position by saying, "Though he was mutinous, as Williams says, he was no baboon."(32)

Coming to show that Babo's malignity was not motiveless. Schiffman builds on Melville's understanding for men's desire for freedom to portray Babo, the leader of the slave rebellion in the fight for freedom, and all Babo's violent acts of cruelty, to be sincerely dictated by his purpose, the worthy cause: freedom and stability. He plotted the murder of Alexandro Aranda, because "he and his companions could not otherwise be sure of their liberty."(30) Schiffman clearly depicts that even through the rebellious violence "Babo emerges the moral victor in "Benito Cereno."(34) According to Schiffman Babo's evil actions are justified through his desire for freedom. Schiffman explains this by stating "Babo is evil because of an evil world", justifying his violent actions due to his environment.

Sundquist, contradicting Schiffman, builds upon the "revelation of Babo's...