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Significance of the "San Dominick"

Page history last edited by Faith 12 years, 9 months ago


The Significance of the "San Dominick" in Benito Cereno

      It is commonly known that Melville's composition Benito Cereno, was based off a true story of a slave revolt on a ship. Melville, however, took particular artistic liberties and changed some of the names and occurences within the story. In one particular case, he changed the name of the mutinous ship from the Tryal to the San Dominick. A change as minute and as simple as a name shift may not seem particularly noteworthy, however, the name San Dominick actually presents a variety of implications.

     In one interpritation, the name San Dominick is taken as an allusion to the Dominican Friars who were considered the Black Friars. This would be an apropo name for a ship, which Delano percieved from afar to be "peering nothing less than a shipload of monks was before him....other dark moving figures were dimly described, as of Black Friars pacing the cloisters" (Mellvile 5). In addition to the direct reference to the Black Friars, it is also seemingly a beggining of a long string of references to the Inquisition of which the Dominican Friars took a huge part. Throughout the rest of the story Mellville continuosly makes references to the Inquisition as compared to the institution of slavery, both morally questionable undertakings of the church. (Feltenstein 249)  

     In another view, it is thought that the name San Dominick is related to the slave revolts led by Toussaint L'Overture. These slave revolts took place in Santo Domingo (modern day Haiti) in the early 1800's. In addition to the name of the ship closely resembling the name of the Island, Mellville also changed the date of the slave mutiny from 1805 to 1799 in order to put it in the exact same time period as the Haitian uprising. Throughout the book Melville also makes reference to Charles V and Saint Bartholomew, who were all heavily involved in the slave trade in Santo Domingo. (Horsley-Meacham 261-262)

     Overall, the exact meaning of the change from the Tryal to the San Dominick is rather ambigous but never-the-less intriguing.    


Works Cited


Melville, Herman. Selected Tales and Poems. New York: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, 1966.


Horsley-Meacham, Gloria. "The Monastic Slaver: Images and Meaning in "Benito Cereno"." The New England 


     Quarterly 56(1983): 249.


Feltenstein , Rosalie. "Melville's "Benito Cereno" ." American Literature 19(1947): 261 - 262.



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