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Overview

Herman Melville’s novella Benito Cereno tells the story of a revolt on a Spanish slave ship, though this isn’t explicitly stated until the end; Melville utilizes foreshadowing, symbolism, and ambiguous language throughout the narrative, culminating in the final reveal that, indeed, all is not what it seems aboard the ship. Melville’s fictionalized account was inspired by a famous slave revolt in 1839 as well as the real Captain Amasa Delano’s 1817 memoir A Narrative of Voyages and Travels, in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. The text was originally published in three installments in 1855, just a few years before the outbreak of the Civil War. Benito Cereno is Melville’s only work of fiction that deals directly with slavery and it is considered to be the most compelling of his stories, as well as the most hotly debated.

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