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Free Study Guide-Benito Cereno by Herman Melville-Free Book Notes
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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

In 1799, two merchant ships meet off the coast of Chile, at the southernmost part. The ship of Captain Delano, an American, has stopped for water in the harbor of a small deserted island called St. Maria. The American ship spies a Spanish ship; it seems to be aimlessly wandering even though it is occupied by a motley number of Africans and Spaniards.

The main plot of the story takes place on the Spanish ship, known as the San Dominick, and occurs during a single day, but a flashback refers to events of the preceding months and a trial, held in Lima Peru, takes place a few weeks after the main action.


LIST OF CHARACTERS

Major Characters

Captain Amasa Delano

A fine sea captain who comes from Duxbury, Massachusetts. His merchant ship, The Bachelor's Delight, is well-run. As a person, he is good-natured and is not easily alarmed. Although he is observant, he does not probe to find details or understand how things fit together. As a result, he is not suspicious about what he finds aboard the San Dominick, the Spanish ship he boards in order to offer his assistance. When he realizes the truth of what has occurred on the Spanish galleon, he is quick to act to make certain that justice is done to the rebellious, violent African slaves.

Captain Benito Cereno

The weary twenty-nine year old captain of the San Dominick, which has undergone a vicious slave rebellion. He has the look and bearing of an older, regal Spaniard even though he is emaciated and anxious to the point of ill-health. For most of the story, he is unable to speak freely.

Babo

Captain Cereno's "helper," who is in his thirties. An African of small stature, he is lively and clever. He is also very concerned with every move of Captain Cereno. Though he seems cheerful and conscientious, he is in fact wearing a mask in order to fool Captain Delano, for he has been the ringleader of the rebellion on board the San Dominick.

Minor Characters

Alexandro Aranda

Benito Cereno's partner and old friend, who dies before the action of the story begins. He was the owner of the African slaves.

Atufal

An African king, who is tall, regal, and rather silent. Enslaved by Alexandro Aranda, he becomes one of the ringleaders of the rebellion. During the story, he appears regularly on the deck of the ship, swathed in chains and metal girdle.

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