Benito Cereno

Melville on Inequality: A Study of the Shorter Fiction College

There is, perhaps, no other American author whose work has been so hotly debated than Herman Melville. The white whale at the center of his most famous work, a juxtaposition of gender in America, an odd scrivener, and his much discussed story of a slave mutiny in “Benito Cereno”; the meaning behind Melville’s work has remained mysterious. The reason there is so much contention about his work, is because Melville was not writing as an all-knowing observer of American society, but as one of the masses trying to define an ever-evolving America. In Melville’s short stories, he used symbolism and characterization to define not only the one-of-a-kind America, but also his own feelings of disillusionment and guilt living in a time and place that he was able to capture beautifully through literature. De Crèvecoeur asked his famous question, “What is the American?” in America’s infancy, and Melville is one of the quintessential American authors whose work answers that question. Although descriptions of rolling hills and odes to freedom made for patriotic reading, they weren’t a very accurate portrayal of American life.

A recurring theme in Melville’s more honest portrayal of the country is inequality, especially in his short stories...

Join Now to View Premium Content

GradeSaver provides access to 1872 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 10892 literature essays, 2717 sample college application essays, 726 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.

Join Now

Already a member? Log in