The Slave Trade and Humanitarianism in Herman Melville's Benito Cereno

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This essay keeps track of the slave trade's little examined implications in Herman Melville's Benito Cereno. By unpacking the historical and theoretical archives of humanness and humanitarianism, the essay scrutinizes Delano's racial unconscious. I point out that Delano not only subscribes to the South's incoherent, quasi-humanitarian logic of slave caring, but also espouses the dehumanizing terms of the slave trade, in order to overcome psychic crisis caused by the reanimated human agency of slaves. Ultimately, despite Babo's astute performance to reclaim the human personhood, slave mutineers end up tragically caught in the differing modalities of humanity and inhumanity deployed by Delano and racial slavery to their convenience.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-30
Number of pages17
JournalForeign Literature Studies
Issue number5
StatePublished - 25 Oct 2022

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  • Human personality
  • Humanity, humanitarianism
  • Melville
  • Slave trade


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