Benito Cereno

The Importance of Setting in Melville's "Benito Cereno"

Setting is an essential component of any story, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Herman Melville's novella "Benito Cereno", a tale of bizarre mystery, curious suspense, and ultimately surprise. In composing his story, the author emphasizes setting in an effort to add breadth to the text, using foreshadowing and a series of symbols to develop the climax of the story. The historical setting serves the social context of the novella.

Initially, the author gives the story an enigmatic tone: "everything was mute and calm; everything gray...the sky seemed gray surtout" (131). Not only does the portrayal of gray conditions impart a physical impression of a dull, foreboding day, but it is a comment on impending ambiguity. If black and white represent absolute truth, the gray intermediate between these two colors represents uncertainty and vagueness. This precursor to mystery becomes increasingly apparent when the author describes the shadows present that day as "Foreshadowing deeper shadows to come" (131).

The uncertain setting and foreshadowing are further emphasized by the appearance of the San Dominick and the detailed, symbol-laden description of her appearance given by Captain Delano. This...

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