Document Type

Unpublished Paper

Publication Date

Fall 2015


In Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno (1855), Captain Amasa Delano discovers a distressed slave ship in need of aid, only to later find out that his perception of the dire situation was completely incorrect. Melville’s novella is derived from Delano’s nonfiction account of the experience, titled Narrative of Voyages and Travels in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres (1817). This paper focuses on three questions that demonstrate why Melville wrote a novella almost completely derived from a nonfiction account of the events aboard the ship. In order to understand why Melville’s novella is powerful, one must ask, as an overarching question why he wrote it, and, more specifically, what Melville was attempting to communicate to his American readership by writing the novella. Studying what Melville changed from the nonfiction account is important in wholly understanding Melville’s intentions in Benito Cereno. This ultimately goes to show that fictional narratives can be as effective as nonfiction, if not more influential in illuminating complex realities that are likely outside of one’s limited perception.


This project was created for a section of ENGL 4997: Capstone devoted to the life and work of Herman Melville.