Benito Cereno


Herman Melville uses “Benito Cereno” as a voice for his observations and comments on the state of America and its people. He uses the two captains to represent two opposing attitudes toward slavery adopted by his pre-Civil War audience, and his own ideas about where the country is headed.

In the end of the story, Captain Delano seems to learn that things are not necessarily always as they seem, but that is about all he learns. Even this, he seems to label as purely circumstantial and not to be applied to every situation. There does come a moment of clarity during the struggle between Don Benito and Babo right after the two have jumped into Captain Delano’s boat, and later during his discussion of these events with Don Benito, when the good Captain becomes aware of what is actually going on and the faults in his assumptions. Instead of changing his assumptions however, Delano simply says what good luck it was that he was so naďve to what was really going on because if he had been more suspicious he would have tried to remedy the situation and may have only added to the mess.

Before he sets foot on the San Dominick, Delano knows that something is not right with the ship. He knows he is in a bad place for anything to go wrong because no one is around to help him, and that there are stories surrounding the area that should make him nervous. He is not nervous however, because he is, “a person of a singularly undistrustful nature, not liable, except in extensive and repeated incentives, and hardly then, to indulge in personal alarms, any way involving the imputation of malign evil in man.”(2372) I believe this is actually an understatement. Even in the extreme and repeated incentives he encounters on the San Dominick, any alarm that he experiences he immediately rationalizes and ignores. When Benito’s story falls apart, and the servant, who apparently makes him so nervous in the scene in his cabin when Babo is shaving Benito, wont leave his side and after watching the two conference together over every step the captain takes, not even when Benito starts asking him all about the crew and fire power, and supplies on his ship, not even then does Delano take heed of these obvious alarms. He would rather think Don Benito was crazy than think that either Benito or Babo had anything but good intentions for him and his crew, as well as for each other.

Several times he uses the setting to dispel any misgivings he has regarding his situation on the San Dominick. At first he says that he only feels uneasy because of the eerie atmosphere. The perfect calm of the place and the bleak gray sky don’t give him much hope of getting either the Bachelor’s Delight or the San Dominick safely to port, and the lack of a good wind prolongs his stay with the strangers because his boat cannot use sails. Later, after the wind picks up a little, and after spending a little more time on the ship observing the strange way it is run and Don Benito’s more apparent lack of control, he uses the wind to cheer himself. He thinks that surely his own boat will return soon with supplies and that this wind will serve him well, that he will save the ailing Don Benito and his ship, and that any uneasiness he experienced was mere foolishness and everything will soon be as it should be just because the wind has picked up. When he tries to cheer Don Benito with news of the wind, he gets no response. Delano thinks he does not welcome this change in the weather because he does not believe it will last owing to the story he has been told of their journey. A story Delano didn’t completely believe, but he is not suspicious of this, he just feels sorry for the poor affected captain. In reality, Benito does not welcome the wind because he knows that either Captain Delano will leave and he will lose control of his ship to Babo again, or Babo will follow through with his plan to take the Bachelor’s Delight. However,