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Distorted Records in \u22Benito Cereno\u22 and the Slave Rebellion Tradition

By Douglas M Coulson


This Article reexamines Herman Melville\u27s short story \u22Benito Cereno, \u22 in which the \u22true history\u22 of the story\u27s events is only revealed to the reader at the end of the story through lengthy extracts from the official deposition of Benito Cereno, captain of the slave ship San Dominick, who testifies that a slave revolt resulted in the deaths of numerous Spaniards and slaves on board. The deposition extracts through which this history is presented to the reader contain numerous defects and contradictions that have troubled critics. This Article reexamines the reliability of the deposition extracts through the lens of the exaggeration, distortion, and censorship that characterize the records of historical slave rebellions. The Article argues that the parallels between the deposition extracts in \u22Benito Cereno \u22 and the unique historiographicapl roblems raised by the records of historicals lave rebellions have been largely overlooked by critics and provide a basis for reexamining whether the deposition extracts in fact provide the \u22true history \u22 of the story and for reevaluating suggestions of a conspiracy between the Spaniards and slaves in the story. The Article also concludes that by using a deliberately defective official document to end \u22Benito Cereno,\u22 Melville provides important commentary regarding the authorship and distortion of official records in slave rebellion trials and the autonomous agency on which law, narrative, and history depen

Topics: Arts and Humanities, History, Law
Publisher: Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository
Year: 2013
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