Nicholas A. Prescott
Yeah, you heard me.
I’m going to be honest, I don’t really understand this blog post, but like everything I do in life, let’s take a ride down confusion lane, shall we?
“Benito Cereno:” Convoluted, twisted, mysterious.
The Heroic Slave: Straightforward, makes sense, helpless (yes, we’ll get there).
Comparing the two, I can easily see how Melville uses a sense of dramatic irony to keep the reader in tow with the story while also trying to sell a slave narrative. He plays on our understanding of the story as we read it and eventually develops it into something that flips on its head.
We see a dubious nature to how the slaves in “Benito Cereno” behave which clue us into the intentions of the “bad guys” (in quotes because point of view matters, but that’s a story for another time) through the entity that is Babo, “But the good conduct of Babo, hardly more than the ill-behavior of others, seemed to withdraw the half-lunatic Don Benito from his cloudy languor” (Melville 2?). We get inklings of this sense of unease.
Later the story performs its inevitable acrobatics and turns really into a slave narrative where we see the enemies as the revolting slaves.
The Heroic Slave uses a different tactic to show us a kind of abolitionist narrative. One moment, in particular, struck me. Mr. Listwell is an outspoken abolitionist. He wants nothing to do with slavery and wishes to see it gone from the world. Douglass is very overt in making clear to the reader that none of the characters are dubious in any way.
When he sees that Madison has been taken into slavery again after his (brave?) decision to try and free his wife, he vows to try and buy him from the trade to free him again. Odd, though, that an abolitionist would consider supporting the slave trade to free his friend, only his friend, and nobody else. Let that sink in, there’s a kind of selfishness to it. He tells Mr. Wilkes “Yes, they’re fine looking fellows, one of them I should like to purchase, and for him I would be willing to give a handsome sum” (Douglass 39).
Not only is he willing to support the slave trade further to fight against it, (confusing, right?) he is only in it to save Madison, not the other 129 people in chains around him. I just think it’s an interesting thing for an abolitionist to do. Although, I can’t say I’d do the same if I freed someone and they made the brash decision to walk right on back into the claws of danger.
Things work out for Madison, though, thanks to Mr. Listwell, so maybe it’s good he didn’t get to buy Madison, but still.
Although, I can’t say I’d do the same if I freed someone and they made the brash decision to walk right on back into the claws of danger. Seriously, Madison, cut your losses and stay in Canada where there’s poutine and Tim Hortons.