Literature and History: The Development of American Culture to 1865

Benito Cereno

This was defiantly not an easy read for me personally my first read I didn’t understand the characters actions, or bizarre behavior but as I was re-reading and finally finished I understood the ironic plot. This story to me is full with irony, the slaves are actually “portraying” to be enslaved while the whites only appear to have freedom. The quote which Delano was almost memorized by was like a intuitive message “Follow your leader” because in fact the whites were acting so strange in particular allowing beatings that were called “ruff housing” or a game, and especially Cerenos weak demeanor was all his following of his leader. In the end Cereno even followed Babo to his death. He was unable to find the strength to survive and recover after the experience, which highlights maybe on a another “white man” weakness or Spaniard in this case. The Africans who were enslaved dreamed of freedom and they prayed for the day to receive it you can guarantee they will find the courage and will to accept and overcome their past. I also at certain points found myself worried for Delano I felt nervous once I had a feeling that this ship was not an average of the time, he was unguarded and very naive.

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3 responses

  1. I agree Delano was too unsuspecting of Babo and this lead to his being unguarded. The scene in the book where Babo begins to shave Delano and Cereno, I honestly expected one of the captains to die. From that moment on I knew something was up. It reminded me of the shaving scene in the color purple. Had Delano not been so blinded by his own racism he wouldn’t have dismissed such pivotal moments in the text. Captin Delano proved to be an unreliable source of information for the reader. His confusion kept the reader perplexed until it became obvious what the situation was on board. Although it was a difficult read I enjoyed the mystery. Its not often we read revolt stories that send chills down our backs. The story of Benito Cereno represents a turning point in slavery, where revolt was a rational fear for white slave holders.

    The final two paragraphs of this work showed the audience that revolt is possible and if you don’t set slaves free, or prevent it in some way revolt will be inevitable. Slaves will grow tired of no wages, cruel treatment, poor provisions, and no freedom. I feel Melville was able to capture the inner workings of the slave. The double mindset all slave must have. Babo is a representation of the double mindsets. How can someone happily be a slave, not thinking ill of his cruel master. I think it would have been impossible. Babo in some ways was able to unleash his hidden sentiments on Cereno and the master he ordered to be killed. Babo was not meant for servitude and so he was able to unite his fellow slaves, organize a revolt, and hide it from the unsuspecting.

    November 18, 2011 at 9:46 pm

  2. don’t you find it interesting that the slaves were in fact the antagonists? I think those who read Melville’s BC must come away fearing the horror on that ship. But that puts the slaves in the role of the bad guys. And they are slave. Seems a little turned around.
    Anyway, the way in which Melville writes this novella is riveting. It sounds like you were caught up in the confusion, which im guessing is what Melville must have wanted. A sense of unease? Fear? shock?
    I really enjoyed reading this novella. I hope it can be adapted in the future. nice post.

    November 29, 2011 at 9:24 pm

  3. jlblakely

    Benito Cereno was quite the read. I agree that Delano was way too unsuspecting of Babo, although his conscience or suspicions were correct all along, but it was his own ignorance/racism kept him from seeing what was really going on. Even though his gut feelings told him that something was simply not normal on this ship, assuming that there could never be the possibility of slave revolt over slave holders, he simply could not see what was right in front of him all along. This read felt like I was going to read a horror scene happen at any second, especially when the shaving scene was described. Like Jessica, I though Babo would slice his neck for sure. Instead Melville gives the reader little hints of slave rebellion when Babo uses the Spanish flag to wipe the blood from Cereno’s cut on his face.

    “You must not shake so, master…Master always shakes when I shave him…See, master,-you shook so-here’s Babo’s first blood.” These quotes demonstrate to me that, after knowing exactly what happened on the ship at the end, ofcourse Cereno is shaking when Babo shaves him! Babo’s got a knife to Cereno’s throat with Babo is full control.

    The atmosphere was eerie, and as a reader I honestly knew that something was up, but didn’t know when the irony would come out in the story. It was especially intriguing to me when the “slaves'” behavior is described as Delano first steps on the ship. I found it most strange of how many of the “slaves” would simply sit and sharpen their knives. Like Daniel mentioned, I certainly had a sense of uneasiness while reading this because the Melville was successful in creating that back and forth thinking of what could possibly be going on in this story.

    December 16, 2011 at 5:53 am

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