Response Essay 6_2012 - Tearing Away the Mask At the end of...

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Tearing Away the Mask At the end of Benito Cereno, the “mask [is] torn away,” and Babo is revealed as the insurgent leader, who has controlled Benito Cereno’s actions and words in every respect (88). The realization that it is Babo, the outwardly affectionate servant, who has masterminded a bloody revolt, forces the reader to reconsider every moment up until the unmasking. Babo’s words and actions take on a much more sinister appearance, and Melville’s own narration shows subtle foreshadowing, nearly imperceptible during the first reading. Upon my second reading of Benito Cereno , I was particularly struck by how early on the themes of subterfuge and blurring racial roles present themselves, as Delano considers the ship and its occupants. For instance, on the sternpiece of the San Dominick is a carving of a “dark satyr in a mask holding his foot on the prostrate neck of a writing figure, likewise masked” (39). This symbolizes from the get-go the conflict on San Dominick, and – through the masking of both identities – suggests that it is uncertain who is actually in power. However,
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