7 - 'Benito Cereno' by Herman Melville revised

Herman Melville’s is extensive and painful droning in ‘Benito Cereno', often leaves his readers bored and frustrated. Captain Delano, one of the main characters at times also frustrates his readers with his naive, passive, disregard. Delano often "looked" at potentially problematic situations but, never "saw" what was transpiring. Ironically, Delano's passiveness results in the saving of his life.

As Delano boarded the San Dominick, a Spanish slave ship, he witnessed peculiar acts that contradicted the traditional customs of a slave ship. Delano was particularly struck by the acts of the pleasant black slave, Babu, who maintained the weak, sickly, white captain, Benito Cereno and remained by his side continuously. The following passage is an example of Babu's attentiveness to Cereno:

“Sometimes the negro gave his master his arm, or took his handkerchief out of his pocket for him; performing these and similar offices with that affectional zeal which transmutes into something filial or fraternal acts in themselves but menial; and which has gained for the negro the repute of making the most pleasing body-servent in the world; less a servant than a devoted companion (1400)."
As Delano tried to attain information about what had happened to the San Dominick, he noticed unusual behavior by several of the ships population. Many experiences transpired in front of Delano that he questioned but "shrugged-off" hereby frustrating his readers. In this following passage, Cereno exhibits what appears to be rude and obscure behaviour while conversating with Delano, when in truth, Cereno was protecting Delano from danger:
“Don Benito faltered; then, like some somnambulist suddenly interfered with, vacantly stared at his visitor, and ended by looking down on the deck. He maintained this posture so long, that Captain Delano, almost equally disconcerted, and involuntarily almost as rude, turned suddenly from him, walking forward to accost one of the Spanish seaman for the desired information. But, he had hardly gone five paces, when, with a sort of eagerness, Don Benito invited him back, regretting him momentary absence of mind, and professing readiness to gratify him (1402).”
Delano’s initial impression of Cereno is that of a mentally ill man with possibly dangerous intentions. How ironic it was to find out that Benito Cereno had been trying to save Delano’s life all the while Delano so mistrusted him. This final passage speaks of this fact:

“Ah, my dear friend, Don Benito once said, at those very times you half thought me plotting your murder, at those very times my heart was frozen; I could not look at you. And as God lives, Don Amasa, I know not whether desire for my own safety alone could have nerved me to that leap into your boat, had it not been for the thought that, did you, unenlightened, return to your ship, you, my friend, with all who might be with you, stolen upon, that night, in your hammocks, would never in this world have wakened again. Do but think how you walked this deck, how you sat in this cabin, every inch of ground mined into honey-combs under you. Had I dropped the least hint, made the least advance towards an understanding between us, death, explosive death—yours as mine—would have ended the scene (1452).”


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