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ERIC Number: ED455520
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2001-Nov
Pages: 13
Abstractor: N/A
Reference Count: N/A
Herman Melville's "Benito Cereno": A Cognitive Approach in Search of Illusions and Allusions.
Khawaja, Mabel
For one Fulbright lecturer teaching Herman Melville's novel "Benito Cereno" at the University of Tunis (North Africa), the setting appeared to be ideal for a United States novel course. "Benito Cereno", for the most part, takes place on a large ship carrying slaves. Eventually, the slaves revolt against their Spanish masters and demand to be taken back to Africa from whence they came. Hence, a great deal of the book concerns the African culture. Although Tunisia takes pride in its diversity of heritage, the lecturer realized she knew little about the challenge of interpreting the truth embodied in Melville's masterpiece. The diversity of student perspectives engaged the class in a complex analysis of three characters who were competing for heroic stature, and in determining heroic traits through behavioral attitudes and actions of the novella's major characters, the search was for knowledge that is prized for "its greater exactness." The cross-cultural teaching adventure soon turned into a quest for illusions and allusions. Since Melville originally wrote the novella as a serial, the lecturer, meeting her students every week, tried to retain the original breakdown of chapters with titles that provided a thematic focus for each session. She found, however, that teaching Melville's novella on the shores of Africa was an enlightening voyage across sea waters--in Tunisia, cultural differences were transformed into an interdisciplinary inquiry as they explored religious and historical allusions in a quest for the true meaning beyond the signifying layers of ironic reversals. The class realized that when the mystery of the detective story was resolved in a judicial court and the truth revealed through ironic contrast between appearance and reality, there was no fairy tale triumph of good over evil. Most were fascinated by the theme of human rights because Melville's plot does not lump together the ideals of truth, justice, and heroic glory in a didactic tale--he allows his readers to contemplate how democracy upholds the fundamental principle of human rights held sacred across cultural boundaries. (Contains 15 references.) (NKA)
Publication Type: Opinion Papers; Speeches/Meeting Papers
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Tunisia