Benito Cerreno Summary

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Benito Cereno, a novella by Herman Melville first published in 1855, is the story of a revolt on a Spanish slave ship off the coast of Chile in 1799. The focalizer, Captain Amasa Delano of an American whaling ship, notices the San Dominick in trouble and decides to go aboard, believing its Spanish crew was in charge up until the very end when he realizes his experience was all a charade organized by the rebelling slaves. Melville may have written this story to connect the rebellion on the ship with the current slave rebellions across the United States, given the novella was written only about six years before the American Civil War started. The novella commented on slavery during a time when there was great political turmoil over the issue…show more content…
There are many instances where Captain Delano notices power dynamics between the slaves and the crew that are not typical but ends up disregarding the events due to justifications from Captain Cereno. He accepts Captain Cereno’s explanations due to his racial biases. For example, Captain Delano witnesses a slave and a young Spanish crew member talking only for the slave to become “enraged at a word...seize a knife…[and] struck the lad over the head” (49-50). The interaction shocks Captain Delano, particularly when he looks to see what Captain Cereno will do in response, only for him to “dully mutter” and disregard it (50). This prompts Captain Delano to express that if such an incidence had happened upon his ship, “instant punishment would have followed”, reflecting his very strong belief that the slaves were inferior and it would be improper for them to behave in such a way (50). There are also many instances where Captain Delano notices weird behavior from the crew members towards him but ends up disregarding their actions. For instance, there is a “young Spanish sailor” who tries to get Captain Delano’s attention three separate times to warn him of the conditions of the ship (54). He keeps his “eye[s] fixed” on Captain Delano and moves in secretive ways through “shadows” suggesting he needs to talk to…show more content…
He perceives African-Americans as not even human beings. Instead, he views them the same way “other men [view] Newfoundland dogs”, suggesting they possess inferior animal or beastly qualities (73). He is blinded by his own racist beliefs, meaning he cannot conceptualize an African-American as anything other than a passive and inferior servant to others. Therefore, he would never dream that Babo and the other slaves aboard the ship possessed the intelligence and skills to commit the act they did. Throughout the story, Babo never leaves Captain Cereno’s side, and Captain Delano admires their relationship that appears to him more like a loyal companionship. He is so moved he even offers to buy Babo asking, “What will you take for him? Would fifty doubloons be any object?” highlighting how his racial bias totally blinds him from the fact that Babo’s attentiveness is not motivated by good intentions (61). His incapability to see Babo as anything other than an attentive servant warps his perception of the situation overall. Had he not possessed racist views, he might have picked up on the dysfunction of the ship early
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