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156 Finally, a Person!
Herman Melville’s short novel Benito Cereno explores the very topical and at-the-time extremely controversial idea of a slave rebellion. Now, like I said, at the time, exploring this topic was incredibly controversial, since many slave-owners didn’t even want the thought in their heads that these other human beings might want some freedom. Now, let’s take apart two of the main characters of the story: Babo, and Benito Cereno. Benito Cereno and Captain Delano are two white male characters who are meant to lead the story (Shocking!). Benito Cereno is the captain of the slave ship from Spain, the San Dominick, where he is holding captive a very large amount of black slaves, some for themselves and others for sale, one of which is a man named Babo. Babo is Cereno’s first-hand slave and the one who leads the rebellion; no one expects that he would be plotting such a “heinous” event. Babo is built as if he is this great slave who follows Cereno’s every order. Due to this, his ultimate rebellion is meant to be seen as a betrayal. How could someone so loyal to their “Master” ever possibly plot something to hurt them? Huh, it’s almost like the slaves didn’t want to be slaves anymore. The way Babo is written is like he is the enemy; he is the one that people are supposed to leave this story disappointed in because he had such a “good thing going“. He was meant to be seen as the enemy.
Now, when it comes to Frederick Douglass’s The Heroic Slave, we see a different side. Frederick Douglass himself was an abolitionist, so you can see his point of view come out through the text as he explores Madison Washington, a slave who really doesn’t want to be a slave anymore (Again, shocking!). The story follows Washington’s life from four major different points, as a slave, his escape, his re-capture, and his rebellion. This story is based on a real person of the same name, this story explores his life as an abolitionist wanting to help those around him. The way he explores this story allows him to create realistic characters, because they are real characters. Having these real characters, while even more controversial, allows the readers to see from the point-of-view of a real person, their mindset and their hardships as the face the threat and actions of slavery in their everyday lives. It forces the aforementioned racist people to think of slaves not as property, but as people. This story flips the story, showing the slaves as true people and the disgusting slave-owners as less-than human. This was something that was desperately needed to be said.