Father Figure and Law as a Skeleton in Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno

Title
Father Figure and Law as a Skeleton in Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno
Author(s)
정진만
Keywords
Melville; Lemuel Shaw; racism; slavery; slave mutiny; law; father figure; Fugitive Slave Act
Issue Date
201107
Publisher
미국소설학회
Citation
미국소설, v.18, no.2, pp.233 - 253
Abstract
This essay aims to investigate Herman Melville’s critique of his contemporary racism and law, focusing attention on his portrayals of skeleton images and biased legal practice against black mutineers in Benito Cereno. The ringleader Babo’s skull, the “hive of subtlety,” represents the inscrutability of blacks’ inner minds impenetrable from white Americans’ perspectives and, thereby, undercuts widespread racism in Melville’s age that blacks are naturally submissive and have no intelligence enough to plot the revolt. The slaveholder Alexandro Aranda’s skeleton, the vestige of once powerful but now deceased master of slaves, signifies the author’s skepticism about the authoritativeness of the father figure, and such aspect more develops in Melville’s negative characterizations of Captain Amasa Delano and Captain Benito Cereno. The insufficiency of such father figures informing Benito Cereno because of their racial prejudice and, more important, of their lack of proper legal functioning may stem from Melville’s own observation of his “father-in-law” Lemuel Shaw, the representative of “father” figure and “law” from the author’s familial/sociopolitical contexts. As a Chief Justice of Massachusetts Supreme Court, Judge Shaw presided over the controversial legal issues concerning fugitive slaves and racial segregation during the antebellum period. Consideration of Judge Shaw’s legal rulings helps us recognize more clearly that Benito Cereno reveals Melville’s implicit critical voices against racism and unjust law pervasive in “American” society, displaying the gap between heavenly law (equality, freedom, and justice) and earthly law (securing slavery system).
URI
http://hdl.handle.net/YU.REPOSITORY/24831
ISSN
1738-5784
Appears in Collections:
문과대학 > 영어영문학과 > Articles
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