Racism And Slavery In Benito Cereno, By Herman Melville

1677 words - 7 pages

Herman Melville is known greatly in the world of literature for his enigmatic works, such as "Bartleby the Scrivener", and "Benito Cereño". His complex plot and unique character personalities make his works both interesting and compelling. In "Benito Cereño", we are introduced to the narrator Captain Delano as he and his crew encounter the ship, the San Dominick, in need of assistance. Upon climbing aboard he meets Captain Cereño along with is crew and slaves, and is informed of their unfortunate events has left the ship without supplies. However, Captain Delano is not aware of what is actually going on behind the fake story he is told. The slaves aboard are the ones in charge holding the Spaniards hostage and forcing them to take them back to Africa. Throughout the story the narrators suspicious rises but is never investigated therefore saving his life and the life of Captain Cereño. Captain Delano dismissed his suspicions because he believes the slaves are stupid, cannot organize, and know their place, but this text is a notice or warning to slave owners in the south, and involved with the Trans-Atlantic trade slave trade. The underestimation of the slaves ability can lead to the down fall of many if not taken seriously.
Originally the non-fictional basis of this text is on the memoir of the once alive Amasa Delano who wrote of a slave revolt on the Spanish ship Tryall. While "Benito Cereño" is a strong and entertaining story of a slave revolt on a Spanish ship, one may not see the message Melville may be trying to express to his readers. Published in 1855, the United States on the brink of the Civil War with the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, this story speaks the horror and nightmare many abolitionist feared may happen if the slaves were not set free, e.g Nat Turners Rebellion in 1831. The root of the problem however is simply racism, Captain Delano cannot comprehend how Babo and his followers could accomplish such a thing as revolting. He does not find them capable until the ending of the story when he sees Babo and the others in action. Interesting enough Putnam's Monthly had taken a radical change against slavery publishing works to not necessarily strike fear into slave owners, but to express power slaves hold hidden ( Yellen 679). It is also suggested that the text stereotypes the abolitionists belief of the slaves to be docile and harmless so to speak ( Welsh 556)
Captain Delano is shown as a bit of dense character for his inability to see the truth of what happened on the San Dominick. When he meets Babo he is amused at how well he takes care of his master, Captain Cereno, he stays along side him linked by the arm. He even thinks to himself how great it is to have such slave that appears to be more of a friend or companion than a manservant ( Nixon 369). While aboard there are many things that Captain Delano sees which rise his suspicion, however he chooses to disregard or forget them as the story progresses. He sees a young slave boy...

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