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“Benito Cereno” And Manifest Destiny By Allan Moore Emery, Review

935 words - 4 pages

In his paper “Benito Cereno” and Manifest Destiny, Allan Moore Emery offers a well-structured and informative presentation of the development of American expansionism, placing Melville’s novella in contemporary political and historical context. More specifically, the paper deals with the concept of Manifest Destiny developed in Benito Cereno, which Emery defines as “the mind-set of those many Americans who fancied themselves citizens of an elect nation, destined by Providence to govern the globe” (49).
In his argument, Emery employs an interesting analogy: San Dominick is a symbol of the Spanish empire. Its “disorderliness” stands for the “anarchy” found by American expansionists in Latin ...view middle of the document...

Since the novella was published in Putnam’s Monthly Magazine, Emery argues, it is certain that Melville had access to other Putnam publications, including contemporary articles on national expansion in the 1850s, as well as arguments for American intervention in Latin America. These arguments apparently contrast the American “energy” and “libertarianism” with “weakness” and “disorderliness” of the Spanish. Emery summarizes mainstream contemporary attitudes about Americans as “an enlightened, progressive race; the Spaniards the extreme reverse” (50). When the author reports on the perception of Spain as a weak nation on its path to ruin, his argument seems completely in line with world systems theory. At the time of production of Melville’s text, of course no such theory is developed yet. And even though Emery does not mention it himself, the decline of Spanish imperialism may be interpreted based on the aforementioned model. Just like Americans, the Spanish once had faith in their “heavenly commission”. Therefore, what happened to the Spanish once may well happen again to “an overly assured America” (66). In this regard, the world systems theory offers an interesting explanation of how core regions become peripheries and how the decline of Spain may foretell America’s future.
The author claims that Benito Cereno points out the similarities in all kinds of imperialisms, therefore making no clear distinction between American imperialism and imperialism in general. If this is the case, Emery states, Melville was “most conscious of America’s mimicry of Spain” (56). The Americans are picking up exactly where the Spanish had left off, it is argued. Once again, the world systems theory would have served Emery had it been sufficiently developed at the time of the paper’s production. However, Melville’s underscoring of this parallel may be motivated by a different reason, the author points out. Mid-nineteen century...

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