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Free Study Guide-Benito Cereno by Herman Melville-Free Book Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES

SECOND HALF OF NARRATIVE

Summary (continued)

While Babo is busy with the slaves, Delano decides to go down and speak to Cereno in private. He dashes downstairs, past Atufal, who has obviously been guarding Cereno's door. As Delano arrives at the captain's cabin, Babo enters by another door, which upsets Delano's plans for a private chat. He does notice, however, that Cereno's spirits seem darker than ever. Delano suggests it might do him good to come upstairs, but Cereno says that he cannot, even when Delano insists. He feels annoyed about the rejection and again decides that Cereno must by crazy. He decides he will go no further to make himself available to the idiotic Spaniard. Delano goes back on deck to watch as the San Dominick pulls up beside his ship.

Before leaving, Delano had intended to speak further to Cereno about the practical details of the repair of the San Dominick, but changed his mind. He will leave without saying anything else to the Spanish captain unless he does the proper thing and comes up to the deck to bid him farewell. When Cereno does not come up, the proper Delano again changes his mind and goes below, to take his leave; however, he does drop hints that he does not appreciate the poor manners of his host. Cereno seems pained over the criticism and turns away, refusing to look Delano in the face.


As Delano crosses the deck towards his awaiting boat, he notices that everything on board the San Dominick is the same; as always, the oakum pickers and hatchet-polishers are busy with their endless work. Captain Delano decides he has been too generous in his judgements of all the people on board the ship. He is glad to be leaving the Spanish galleon and eagerly steps into his boat when the ladder is set. Suddenly Delano sees Cereno advancing with a changed countenance; although nervous, he now seems energetic. Babo tries to calm him and keep him back, but Cereno grabs hold of Captain Delano and will not let go. He holds on until the last minute, when he tells Captain Delano, "Go, and God guard you better than me." Delano is touched by the blessing and tries to forgive Cereno.

When Delano is seated, his men push off the boat. Suddenly Cereno jumps from the San Dominick and lands in the little boat at Captain Delano's feet. As three more Spanish sailors jump into the water, chaos erupts on board the ship. Delano is disgusted, for he thinks that Cereno is trying to pull off some pirate stunt. As the three Spanish sailors try to climb into the little whale boat, Babo suddenly jumps in the boat. His dagger is drawn, and Delano assumes it is pointed at him. Delano's men quickly disarm Babo. As a struggle ensues, Babo pulls a second knife; this time it is clear that he is pointing it at Cereno. As Babo writhes towards his, in serpent-like movement, his face is contorted in hatred. Suddenly it all becomes clear to Captain Delano. He quickly strikes the knife from Babo's hand.

Captain Delano has realized he has interrupted a slave revolt on the San Dominick. He looks to the deck of the ship to see what is going on. A few of the Spanish boys have climbed the rigging, to escape the chaos on deck, and others have dropped into the sea; only a few Spaniards remain amongst the Africans. From the small whale boat, Delano orders that the ropes to the San Dominick be cut so that the ship will drift. He tells his men to ready the guns on The Bachelor's Delight. As the small boat passes the bow of the Spanish galleon, the shroud comes off and reveals a human skeleton. Delano notices the ironic words beneath the skeletal bones, "Follow your leader." Cereno wails that the bones belong to his murdered, unburied friend, Alexandro Aranda.

Cereno will not board The Bachelor's Delight until Babo is taken below deck where he cannot be seen. Since Babo is tied up, he does not try to fight. On board, Delano orders his men to fire at the Spanish ship, but the gunfire has little effect. It is decided that the crew will chase the galleon in whale-boats; it should be safe, for the Africans have no firearms on board. Delano is persuaded to stay behind; filled with their own self-interest, the officers want to go alone, and Cereno fears for Delano's life. The captain tells his men that if they are successful in capturing the San Dominick, they may keep some portion of the treasure found on board, including the slaves, cargo, gold, and silver.

It takes a while to catch up to the San Dominick, which is rapidly sailing away into the darkening evening. As they draw near, Delano's crew drops their oars and starts shooting. In response, the Africans hurl their hatchets, which simply fall into the sea. The men in the whale boats yell to the Spanish boys in the rigging to cut the sails, which they do. When the ship slows, the crew continues shooting; Atufal is killed, as well as the helmsman and two other Spanish sailors, leaving the galleon leaderless. With shouts of "follow your leader," Delano's men board the ship. A fierce hand-to-hand battle ensues, moving back and forth in favor of one side and then the other. Finally, Delano's crew drives the Africans back to the stern. About twenty black slaves are killed, and many others are badly hurt. Though many are injured, including the first mate, none of Delano's men are killed.

After two days of refitting, both ships sail off towards Lima, Peru. They eventually arrive and go to present the case of the San Dominick at the vice-regal courts. Then end of the novel gives the deposition of Benito Cereno in which he gives the details of the horrendous events during the slave revolt. The court would have found them totally unbelievable, but the few surviving Spanish sailors confirm every detail.

Notes

In this section, Captain Delano's blindness to the truth becomes obvious. Even when he has doubts about what is happening on the San Dominick, his good nature makes him retreat from his silent accusations. He chides himself for being too fearful and doubting, even though he is given many obvious hints, the knot being the most direct. His endless back-and-forth thoughts are masterfully developed to create tension in the plot. Some of the give and take is almost amusing, such as the shaving scene in which Captain Delano admires Babo's work when the servant is, in fact, torturing Cereno. When Captain Delano reasons, as he does many times, that Cereno is in such poor condition that he could not possibly engineer any piratical behavior, he is exactly correct.

Captain Delano is a far too simple and innocent soul, a "type" that Melville often included in his fiction. He trusts his eyes rather than his thoughts or emotions, and even those seem to lie to him from time to time. When he sees the Spanish sailor hide something shiny in his cloak, he dismisses it as unimportant. When Captain Delano spies his own whale boat, however, he is childishly warmed by the sight, as if it were a friendly dog. He is the complete opposite of the leaders of the rebellion, who carefully manipulate and hide the truth.

Babo and Atufal, the crafty leaders of the rebellion, are the engineers of a marvelously created masquerade in which all details are well planned; their artifice is never detected by the simpler Delano. Even though Cereno cannot remember the lies he has told about what has happened to his crew, Delano does not become overly suspicious. When each Spaniard on board is always guarded by at least one African slave, Delano never questions the situation. When Babo watches over the lunch between the two captains, Delano just thinks that he is attempting to be attentive to his master. Even when Delano requests that Babo be dismissed so that the two of them can talk financial matters and Cereno refuses, Delano is not overly alarmed. The masquerade is so carefully planned and phrased by Melville, that even the reader is not certain what is going on during the first reading of the story. On second or third reading, however, it is obvious that every gesture, interruption, and spoken word is filled with double meaning.

The full height of Delano's naiveté is seen at the end of the section. Cereno jumps into the boat, creating the climax of the plot. Even though the Spanish captain is in the boat and the people on the San Dominick go wild, Delano still does not realize or accept what is happening until he actually sees Babo's knife pointed at his master. Shortly after he knows about the rebellion, he is also exposed to more truth when the bones of Alexandro Aranda, the slave owner and Cereno's dear friend, are revealed. Suddenly, the words on the front of the ship, "Follow your leader," take on their full meaning. Implied in the phrase are the facts that violence follows violence, and rebellion follows slave-holding. It is no surprise, then, that a bloody attack by the men of The Bachelor's Delight is the natural recourse to put down the rebellion, for violence does follow violence. At this point, the story becomes almost a tale of adventure. There is a detailed account of the action-filled attack and counter-attack, including the strategies used by Delano's men to conquer the Africans.

Throughout the section there are discussions on issues of race. In several places, Melville raises the typical arguments for and against both slavery and segregation. Although the author was by no means an ardent abolitionist, he certainly had great sympathy for the northern army and their mission of abolishing slavery during the Civil War. In this story, he points out in a subtle way the foolishness of some of the ideas of prejudiced people. In the beginning of the section, Melville shows how people of different colors are afraid to mix when he says no "white" would ever plot with "blacks" against other whites. The problem of mixed blood is clearly laid out in the discussion over Francesco, a mulatto. Captain Delano's interest in having a Negro as a friend, albeit one that should know his place, is a typical attitude of his time. Most importantly, Melville clearly portrays in the section that "slavery breeds ugly passions in man."

In this section, Melville shows his ability to masterfully develop a suspenseful tale filled with double meanings. He also reveals his vast knowledge with his frequent nautical and classical allusions. He also shows his creativity by ending this section with lots of questions unanswered and then quickly answering them in Cereno's deposition, which follows as the final section of the story. This rather unusual move on Melville's part - ending a story with a "report" which fills in the details of previous action - would certainly not work well under the pen of a less experienced or less capable writer.

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