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Compare and contrast Herman Melville's Benito Cereno and Douglass's Narrative.

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winter567 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

Posted June 12, 2012 at 12:43 PM via web

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Compare and contrast Herman Melville's Benito Cereno and Douglass's Narrative.

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 12, 2012 at 3:08 PM (Answer #1)

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Both works are based on actual events, though Douglass claims that he is not fictionalizing events, and Melville, though drawing much of his story from actual reports of an incident at sea, is writing a work of fiction. The works also center on slavery, but in far different lights. Where Douglass portrays the institution as fundamentally evil, and justifies resistance, even violent resistance, as a means of reclaiming humanity, Melville takes a more complex view. While the slaves' revolt against their masters was justifiable, the black men in the story represent evil, duplicitousness, and violence. It could be argued that the institution of slavery itself was the cause of evil and the decline of good in Benito Cereno, placing men in a situation where they did such horrible things to each other. But it is clear that Douglass takes a more uncompromising, less ambiguous view of the relationship between good and evil, master and slave. 

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