Benito Cereno Questions and Answers
by Herman Melville

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How useful do you feel Grandin's massive "thick" historical description is as an interpretive strategy in reading Benito Cereno?

Grandin’s massive historical description is not useful as an interpretive strategy for reading Benito Cereno. Looking at this work from a twenty-first century perspective causes a disconnect between Grandin’s critique of Melville’s novella and the conclusions he reaches about the author’s attitude toward racism a century and a half earlier.

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Using Grandin’s massive historical description as an interpretive strategy for reading Herman Melville’s novella Benito Cereno is very much like creating a 165-year-old anachronism for factual accuracy in the twenty-first century. Melville penned this fictional story in the mid-nineteenth century based on a historical event. Melville published this book in 1855 contemporaneously with the horrors of slavery in the pre-Civil War era. Regardless of his personal viewpoint on the politics of his time, he did have a first-hand perspective on issues surrounding slavery. How much of any possible bias on behalf of the author leaked its way into his novella is unknown. However, the implication that Melville wrote Benito Cereno with a racist mindset or intentionally twisted factual material to make his work appear historically accurate is somewhat less than useful as a strategy for interpretation of his book.

By definition, fiction is a literary narrative that is invented by an author. It is not...

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