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GEOFFREY SANBORN Where's the Rest of Me?: The Melancholy Death of Benito Cereño * * * that, during the three days which followed, the deponent, uncertain what fate had befallen the remains of Don Alexandro, frequently asked the negro Babo where they were, and, ifstill on board, whether they were to be preserved for interment ashore, entreating him so to order it; that the negro Babo answered nothing till the fourth day, when at sunrise, the deponent coming on deck, the negro Babo showed him a skeleton, which had been substituted for the ship's proper figure-head—the image of Christopher Colon, the discoverer of the New World; that the negro Babo asked him whose skeleton that was, and whether, from its whiteness , he should not think it a white's; that, upon discovering his face, the negro Babo, coming close, said words to this effect; 'Keep faith with the blacks from here to Senegal, or you shall in spirit, as now in body, follow your leader,' pointing to the prow; * * * that the same morning the negro Babo took by succession each Spaniard forward, and asked him whose skeleton that was, and whether, from its whiteness, he should not think it a white's; that each Spaniard covered his face; that then to each the negro repeated die words in the first place said to the deponent; * * * "Benito Cereño" 'here's the rest of Don Alexandro Aranda? The horror of Babo's question—whose was the body that once surrounded these bones?—is prolonged by the reverberation of this second question , never exactly asked and never exactly answered. By forcing the Spaniards' attention to die absence ofeverything that had personalized the dead man's body, Babo invites them to begin imagining what might have become of those missing parts. That imaginative process is set in Arizona Quarterly Volume 52, Number 1, Spring 1996 Copyright © 1996 by Arizona Board of Regents issN 0004- 1 6 10 6oGeoffrey Sanborn motion again, diis time only in the minds of the readers of "Benito Cereño," when we hear that an Ashantee named Yau "was die man who, by Babo's command, willingly prepared the skeleton ofDon Alexandro , in a way the negroes afterwards told the deponent, but which he, so long as reason is left him, can never divulge" (irr-12). As before , Melville solicits our desire for an inside narrative, a reliable account of what happened to Aranda's body during its thtee days below decks. But as always, in diis story that is staged almost entirely in the public domains of the deck and die courtroom, he ultimately offers us nothing but uncertain, external signs: we don't know what the Africans told Cereño, and even if we did, we wouldn't be sure that they told him the truth. The interiors of the San Dominick remain as inaccessible as the interiors of Babo's head, "that hive of subtlety" diat ends the story "fixed on a pole in the Plaza," where it meets, "unabashed, the gaze of the whites" (1 16). We gaze at the evidence that might tell us where the rest of Aranda is and it gazes back at us, opaque and unchanging as the ocean that the San Dominick is dtifting into, an expanse of water so perfectly still that it seems, like a coffined corpse, to be "laid out and leaded up, its course finished, soul gone, defunct" (78). But we have found it difficult to leave it at that. Beginning with Sidney Kaplan in 1957, at least nineteen critics have inferred from this fragmentary evidence that Aranda's body was in fact consumed by his former slaves.1 Two ofthese critics, John Harmon McElroy and Barbara Baines, have devoted entire essays to the argument that an off-stage act of cannibalism is at the dark heart of this narrative. The potential meaning of such an act has been a matter ofdebate: some critics have followed Kaplan in arguing that it is part of Melville's racist evocation ofblack savagery in the story as a whole, while others have argued that cannibalism is "a generalized metaphor for the sins ofmen against each other" (McElroy...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 59-93
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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