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Books Unbound – “Benito Cereno” by Herman Melville, Part Two


The second in a four-part program on Herman Melville’s novella “Benito Cereno,” based on the memoir of the real-life sea captain Amasa Delano. Melville’s mastery of point of view takes us into the mind of the well-meaning but clueless Delano as he spends the day aboard a Spanish merchant-ship in distress. The ship is manned by a skeleton crew of haggard Spaniards, and carries 150 Africans bound for the slave trade. As the American captain struggles to understand the demeanor of his Spanish counterpart, he fails to see what’s really happening within this microcosm of society.

“Benito Cereno” was published serially in Putnam’s Magazine in 1855. One installment appeared in the same issue as a laudatory review of Frederick Douglass’s My Bondage and My Freedom. The indirect connections between Douglass and Melville point to complex issues of abolition and racial attitudes in the crisis years leading up to the American Civil War. Since the mid-20th century, the story has been viewed as exposing, as one critic put it, “the dominant culture’s ignorance of its own repressive tactics”.

Our reader is Doug Storm. This episode also includes Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem “Captain Amasa Delano’s Dilemma,” read by Tony Brewer. Special music for the episode comes from River of Light by Richard Danielpour, as recorded by Tim Fain and Pei-Yao Wang.

Host: Sarah Torbeck
Announcer: Berklea Going

Produced by Cynthia Wolfe and Doug Storm with Sarah Torbeck.
Written by Cynthia Wolfe with assistance from Doug Storm.
Executive producer: Alycin Bektesh
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes

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