About Benito Cereno

The metaphysical elements of Melville’s work, particularly his emphasis on rhetorical questions and inversion, is often detrimental to clarity of diction and flow of language. For example:

The whites, too, by nature, were the shrewder race. A man with some evil design, would he not be likely to speak well of that stupidity which was blind to his depravity, and malign that intelligence from which it might not be hidden? Not unlikely, perhaps. But if the whites had dark secrets con-cerning Don Benito, could then Don Benito be any way in complicity with the blacks? But they were too stupid. Besides, who ever heard of a white so far a renegade as to apostatize from his very species almost, by leaguing in against it with negroes?

Some critics find this work too long and seriously hampered by a contrived retelling of events through a truncated legal deposition in the last segment. For others, the work commands respect for its incisive examination of the corrupting influence of slavery. One admirer, Robert Lowell, based one of his plays in the trilogy The Old Glory (1965) on the novel; the other two plays are based on stories of Hawthorne.