As works which had similarly evoked slave-ship revolt as topics for their prose fictions in the mid-1850s, Douglass’s The Heroic Slave and Melville’s Benito Cereno, Hole’s essay argues, offer noticeably distinct aesthetic, rhetorical, and stylistic presentations of slave rebellion and of conflict itself—that is, conflict as an aesthetic device within narrative as well as the thing being narrated, the manifestation of force between actors aboard the slave ship. Because the enforcement of US law and security by 1850 tended toward something supra-territorial if not transnational in scope and range—in fact, superseding the interests of the national body politic—Douglass and Melville also had to conceptualize how conflict was attendant with this enforcement, how conflict manifested both on a grander scale and in specific instances and intensities. The figure of the fugitive allowed each to theorize, dramatically and imaginatively, a set of relations that reflected their conceptualizations of conflict and strife within their nineteenth-century moment—conceptualizations, too, of US power if we understand this power as an arrangement that makes possible certain orders or types of conflict.

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