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Importance Of Setting In Benito Cereno

978 words - 4 pages

Importance of Setting in Benito Cereno

    Many authors of fiction works have a good reason behind setting their story in a specific place and time. In many cases, the setting is blatantly significant, giving the reader added meaning, and a greater understanding of the story in the realm of its context. I definitely found this to be true in Benito Cereno by Herman Melville, who sets his story in South America. The only representative of America is Captain Delano, a naive man that views the world as kind and benevolent, and where things cannot go too far beyond what they seem like on the surface. Here the inquisitive reader would ask himself: "If the story is written by an American author, who is writing about a controversial American issue of its time, would it not seem most logical to place the story on American soil?" The possible explanations as to why Melville chose South America to be the scene of the revolt rather than, say, somewhere off the coast of the United States, will be explored in this paper.


For one, South America is a far off and removed place from the hot bed of political issues regarding the slaves in the United States. Keeping in mind that Melville was writing a short story and selling it to an audience that was both pro- and anti- slavery, by placing the ship in South America, he was able to escape from taking a strong political stance. His choice of setting limits the numerous outcomes of the revolt on San Dominick. In other words, had he placed the ship on an island off the United States, the trial would be influenced by that state's laws. In this way, the story is less biased to any laws governing the states. The trial takes place in Lima, Peru. Because Babo keeps silent, the depositions of Benito Cereno and the surviving sailors are the only proof of what had really happened on the San Dominick. In this way, the readers of the story cannot pass judgment in terms of the state they live in, and have a more objective eye to the scene.



I believe that Melville, as an aboltionist, used South America as the setting to the story, so that Southern readers would subconsciously get an unbiased look at slavery. Granted in the end, Babo is hung, and in legal terms he does not come close to "winning" the case, his actions proved that the slaves were human and did have the power and knowledge to stand up for their rights. A Southern slaveholder reading this story might have possibly realized that the black people are not innately inferior, only meant to be sold or treated like property. Furthermore, by isolating the revolt, Melville has the leisure of using a single character, Captain Delano, to represent a whirlpool of American views on slavery. The probability that the American reader would tend to side with Delano (because he is...

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