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Research Papers on Benito Cereno

Great literature reflects the time frame in which it was written in. Paper Masters can write you a custom research paper that examines Benito Cereno in the context of the poignant issues of Herman Melville's era. A research paper on Benito Cereno can illustrate that this historical fiction novel is a timeless classic in the great American tradition of Southern Literature.

Herman Melville's Benito Cereno is thought of by some American scholars as one of the defining stories on:

  1. Slavery
  2. Race relations
  3. The effects of slavery on both races in this country

The story's themes are particularly poignant when one considers the timing of its first publication as well as the period in which the story was set. The story is set in the year 1799, significant because the trade in new slaves to the United States had not yet been abolished.  This forces the reader of Melville's time to focus on the question of who is morally flawed in the story since the transportation of slaves from Africa was legal.

Benito Cereno

Benito Cereno's Publication

As mentioned, the timing of Benito Cereno's publication is also important.  It was first published in the scholarly journal known as Putnam's in 1855.  This was shortly prior to the Civil War, which would in the end free the slaves, and at the same time some of the most rancorous debates occurred over the subject.  As with any storyteller speaking of the times in which they live, Melville doesn't state directly his opinions in the story.  Through the narrative, the development of characters and the accompanying symbolism a sense of his actual views are conveyed.  Yet there is latitude given the reader to develop their own opinions as events unfold and as characters are developed.

Benito Cereno and Slavery

While there are many identifiable themes in the story, Paper Masters suggests you choose to examine the theme based on the fact that the institution of slavery effects those involved in the slave trade, placing them in bondage to attitudes, stereotypes and bias as surely as if they were in chains.  When one examines this peculiar institution, one is struck by the excesses and extent to which the enslavers have to stoop in order to justify their activities.  Assuming that people do not do what they believe to be morally wrong, the reader must conclude that the enslavers have justified it in their own minds and conscience.  They had to convince themselves that they are good people performing a good deed, a favor, for the enslaved. This theme is played out again and again throughout the story.

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