Benito Cereno Essay, Research Paper
Benito Cereno is a novella by the highly regarded writer Herman Melville. Upon reading his story it becomes obvious that the two main characters, Don Benito Cereno and Captain Delano, were somewhat similar in character. Their most obvious similarity was the bias they both had towards the intelligence level of the slaves. However, the slaves prove to outsmart the two men and therefore are superior in intelligence.
Delano s naivet is common of the time period. That period of history was a time when whites truly thought of themselves to be the dominant race. Even though this stupidity still exists in the prejudice minds of some today, in the past whites thought that people of color were incapable of being intelligent. But none the less, being an intelligent person and simply having the sense to try and save your own life are two different things entirely, which is why the view of whites at this time seems so ignorant. The downfall of Captain Delano occurs because he seems to be totally blind as to the signs of mutiny that appear so clear to the reader. In fact, his seeming goodness and benevolence is actually a mask to cover racism, stupidity, and his own superiority complex.
As the story begins Captain Delano sees a ship that looks like it is in a dilemma. The ship seems to be shrouded in vapors, and makes strange manoeuvres. In this context, the vapors clearly refer to the fog-like moisture which partly obscures the ship, but it also could convey a type of hypochondria and hysteria which the Captain will discover in Don Benito. Although he is uncertain at first he goes to check it out anyway. This is the first example of the naivet of the captain. When he first arrives on board of the San Dominick, (Benito s ship) he notices that the ship is full of negros and a Spanish Captain named Don Benito. Believing the fairytale story that Benito tells him is another example of his stupidity. At one point in the story Benito actually winked at Delano. And though he thought it was odd that the two slaves whom had trampled a sailor were not reprimanded, he does not dwell on the situation until much later in the story, when it is too late. The story, which can be taken on it s literal level as a story about the discovery of the mutiny, should also serve as a cautionary tale about how the excesses of slavery will return to haunt the master.
Another example of the difference in intelligence levels between characters in this book is when Delano is handed the knot. When he asks why the knot was tied the sailor replies For someone else to undo. (66) Delano does not understand that the knot represents the situation. It could also be a portrayal of the knot in his head, meaning his views towards blacks, and how it will never be able to be undone. Instead he simply hands the knot to an elderly slave who asks for it and apologizes for the sailors behavior. This is a direct example of the intelligence of the slaves. He does so because he is not blinded by ignorance and understands what the sailor is trying to do.
Throughout the story Don Benito shows signs of the truth behind his story. At first he seems like the dominant commander and master of his ship. He also seems like a harsh master to his slaves. At first the reader gets the impression that Benito put the slaves up to the conspiracy. When in reality the negros made Benito act like he had everything in control. Benito was actually a puppet being used by the slaves to keep the masquerade flowing smoothly. This is evident when Delano starts to question Benito about the story he told, and Babo, Benito s slave, changes the atmosphere by insisting that Benito needed a shave. This is the first sign of the deceitful nature of slaves. Deceitfulness, although not a sign of high morality, is one that takes a great deal of intelligence. As he is being shaved Benito becomes very nervous as Babo comes close to his neck with the razor. In fact Benito does actually get cut, which foreshadows the danger ahead. In order to keep the ruse going Babo actually cuts himself on the cheek shortly after and proceeds to wail and make a big fuss in order to appear to Delano as though he had been reprimanded by Benito. Then Babo goes on carefully choosing his words around Delano. He never uses the word I, instead he refers to himself in the third person so as to not give himself an identity. This further solidifies Delano s own sense of I. This was common behavior at the time. Slaves were not taught to have a sense of self, for if they did they might be inclined to stand up for themselves and revolt. But the fact that Babo recognizes this and uses it to his advantage is further proof that the slaves on board were very intelligent and knew exactly what they were doing.
When Captain Delano asks Benito to board his ship, Benito hastily declines. This is because he knows that if he were to try and leave his ship the slaves would have murdered him instantly, for he would have certainly told the truth about the situation if given the chance. This is another example of how the slaves on Benito s ship were the ones in control. Finally, after Benito escapes and the battle starts we find out the truth and come to see Benito s true character. Underneath it all Benito was a pitiful, powerless and frightened person. He himself was like Delano in that he never saw the mutiny coming because he did not believe the negros were capable of staging a mutiny. The combination of his own stupidity and the intelligence of the slaves was the reason he was in that situation.
Because Delano was so close-minded he never saw the truth behind the situation aboard the San Dominick. If he wasn t so ignorant, he would have suspected earlier that Benito was being held captive aboard his own ship. Likewise, if Benito was more intelligent he could have done a better job of alerting Delano of what was really happening, and he wouldn t have been in that situation in the first place. The ruse could not have worked if it hadn t been for the slaves. They continued to hide the truth longer than they could have if they really were simply mindless savages. In fact, throughout the story the slaves are constantly in control, and show an apparent superior intelligence over the two white men, manipulating their thoughts and actions.