Benito Cereno

Perception as Plot: A Structural Account of the Level of Action, Character, and the Narrative of Suspicion in Benito Cereno

In “The Grammar of Narrative,” a chapter in his longer work, The Poetics of Prose, Tzvetan Todorov describes the simplest, “minimal complete plot” as consisting “in the passage from one equilibrium to another. An ‘ideal’ narrative begins with a stable situation which is disturbed by some power or force. There results a state of disequilibrium; by the action of a force directed in the opposite direction, the equilibrium is re-established” (Todorov 111). From this central plot movement within the text, Todorov argues that two types of episodes in the narrative emerge, to which two correlate parts of speech (i.e., “grammar”) can be related. The episode that describes the initial state of equilibrium can be thought of as the “narrative adjective” (Todorov 111). The episode that captures the actual passage between equilibrium and disequilibrium, illustrates a fundamental action (or series of actions), and can thus be defined as the “narrative verb” (Todorov 111).

If these two predicates, the adjective-description and verb-transition, comprise the

“sentence” of a plot, Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno is a run-on narrative with hanging clauses and successive fragments. The novella does not follow a smooth, linear plot pattern that can...

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