Men in Coats - Nixon

Men in Coats Nixon

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Unformatted text preview: who, appropriately,irst proffershis knowlf of Spain to his students, then devotes his edge comfortable leisure to furtherdisseminating gentility by "illustrat[ing] her marvels" to a larger, rapt American audience (289). If Harvardsought overtly to gentrify its students, its scholars promoted the study of Spain as a furthermarkof participationin a "bettercaste." Here,then,were two faces of cultivationthatconstituted a culturalcurrencyof the northernelite by the 1850s-the romantic,aristocraticcultureof colonial Spain andthe Europeanized or Harvardized) ( figure of the gentlemanly, aristocratic American dandy.Melville's Don Benito combinesthe two. He is, after all, an effete gentleman only dressed up 368 ThePoliticsof theDandiacalBodyin Melvilles'"Benito ereno" C i temporarilyn the Spanishflag, andhe is the equivalent of Don Pedroin White-Jacket, ho is the mirror w of the American Commodore of the Nevimage ersink.Melville insists thatthereis virtuallyno differencebetweenthe Emperorandthe Commodore: Both wore chapeaux-de-bras,ndbothcontinually a wavedthem.By instinct,the Emperor newthatthe k venerable ersonage eforehimwas as mucha monb p archafloat s he himselfwasashore. idnotourcoma D modore arryhesword f state yhisside?Forthough t o c b not bornebeforehim, it musthavebeen a swordof e state,sinceit lookedfartoo lustrous verto havebeen his fighting word.That asnaught uta limber teel s w b s w h blade, itha plain,serviceableandle. (234) Because Delano is not one of the "lordsand noblemen" like the Commodore,it is no wonder that he can only squirm with a discomfited apprehension of his ignorance of correct social form, a form whose authority he cannot gainsay because he is not Cereno'sequal. Despite his recognitionthat, in theory, he and Cereno are equals at sea, Delano only occasionally behaves as an equal, and as long as he remains fixed on Cereno's deportment, Delano is destinedto be Cereno'ssocial inferior. What Babo promptsCereno to play for Delano, then, is a figure whose recognized command over the exigencies and labyrinthinemysteries of social form shifts authorityfrom Delano's obtuse muscularity and presumption of obedience to Cereno's refined sensibility and capricious license. And the entire narrative, I suggest, depends as much on Delano's inabilityto navigatethe codes of decorum associated with Cereno's dandyism as it does on the slaves' enactment of Delano's racist assumptions that "negroes are natural valets and hairdressers" (83). Nowhere is this inability more retrospectively accentuated than in the final conversation between Delano and Cereno in Lima, duringwhich Cerenocan only shake his head sadly over Delano's ignorant vulgarity: "you were with me all day; stood with me, sat with me, talkedwith me, looked at me, ate with me, drankwith me; and yet, your last act was to clutch for a monster [...]. So far may even the best men err, in judging the conduct of one with the recesses of whose conditions he is not acquainted"(115). But Delano can- not hope to read into the recesses of Cereno's conditions, because Cereno's conduct conforms to the ineffable "religion"of artifice. With the benefit of hindsight,Delano can in fact register his inferiority and silent acceptance of Cereno's caprices as correct, yet he does "clutch for a monster,"and he is plagued throughout his experiences aboardthe San Dominick with suspicions about Cereno's legitimacy. More than even his silence and confusion about social form, though, this suspiciousness marksDelano as occum pying a liminal, northern iddle class that,because its memberswere not among the real initiates, had notorious difficulty differentiatingbetween an authentic member of the elite and the confidence man, who was merely dressed up to look like an aristocrat. As Karen Halttunen argues, the huge numberof "advicemanualsfor young men written between 1830 and 1860" were designed to facilitate the "passage from lower to higher status" and to teach readers how to judge true gentility (28-29). Such manualswarnedyoung men against being fooled by the mere appearanceof gentility, since the "appearance f a stranger id not offer reo d liable clues to his identity."A "popular rbanmyth u told of the foreign imposter, a bogus count or baron, who gained admittance to the wealthiest parlorsin the city by virtueof his polished appearance. Well-dressed, smoothly courteous, and quietly dignified, he soon succeeded in winning the hand of some bourgeois heiress, received a handsome marriage settlement, and abruptly disappearedbefore the wedding"(37). And yet, as Edith m Vvtliarton akes clear in her Old New Yorknovels, the middle class was awarethat the real aristocracy did not abide by its restrictive codes-in The Age of Innocence, for example, Newland Archer remarks that the van der Luydens' visiting English dukes were notoriously careless of middle-class etiquette, frequently wearing, saying, or d...
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This essay was uploaded on 03/01/2014 for the course ENGLISH 220 taught by Professor Linda during the Spring '11 term at CUNY Hunter.

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