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

DEPOSITION SECTION

Summary (continued)

Cereno closes the deposition by stating that these details are all that he can remember. He then states that he is twenty-nine years of age. Broken in body and spirit, he plans to retire to a monastery on Mount Agonia after the proceedings. Benito Cereno then signs the deposition.

Melville adds several details to the deposition. During the trip to Lima, the two captains have several conversations. Cereno tells Delano that his heart was very heavy while the masquerade was on, and that his current gloom is due in part to the role he had to play in order to save them both. He begs for Captain Delano's understanding of the situation. Delano assures him that he understands and thanks Cereno for saving his life. Cereno objects and says that it is Delano who saved his life. Captain Delano then admits that his own sense of compassion and good nature had prevented him from suspecting the truth. Even when things seemed strange or suspicious to him, he excused them simply as foreign behavior.

Cereno admits that Babo was the most frightening part of the entire ordeal, for he was constantly watching over and threatening him. He directed Cereno's every movement, even choosing what clothes he was to wear. After Babo was captured, however, the ringleader never spoke another word, refusing to testify in his own defense. Cereno is pleased that he has never had to see his enemy again. After he was condemned, Babo was dragged to death behind a mule; his head was then severed and put on a post in the town Plaza, facing the church where Aranda's bones had been interred.


Delano tells Cereno that the sea and sky have no memory; therefore, he should look to them both for comfort, trying to forget the things of the past. He also assures the Spanish captain that in the future he will only find friendly hands; certainly, that is what awaits him at the monastery on Mount Agonia, where Cereno journeys after the proceedings. Three months later, he dies at the monastery, as if to follow his leader.

Notes

This section is composed almost entirely of Cereno's deposition about the revolt, which is given to the court in Lima, Peru. Melville's use of the third person deposition at the end of his story is quite clever, for even though it is a totally fictional account, he makes it seem realistic and, therefore, believable. The most striking feature of the deposition is the detailed explanation of the horrible violence that occurred on board the San Dominick. Coming at the end of the narrative, it helps to explain and clarify the vague events that have been going on earlier in the story.

The deposition begins with a notary swearing to the truth and authenticity of the document, which makes it appear even more realistic. Then Cereno begins to give the details of the revolt and ensuing masquerade on board the San Dominick. He spares few details in telling how the passengers and crew are ruthlessly murdered. Particular attention is given to the death and handling of the remains of Alexandro Aranda, Cereno's dear friend and business partner.

The tense situation on board calls for all manner of "games." After the initial revolt, Cereno runs his ship back and forth for eight days, supposedly in search of water; in reality, he is hoping to encounter a friendly vessel that will come to the aid of his ship and rescue him and his men from the rebellious Africans. When Cereno encounters no other boats and finds no place to get water, he turns his ship towards St. Maria, a deserted island where he knows he can find water. What he does not realize is that The Bachelor's Delight is also in port at St. Maria, searching for water.

When Babo spies the second ship, the masquerade begins. He plans every detail of what is to happen if someone from the foreign vessel calls on the San Dominick. When Delano arrives, Babo and the Africans cleverly hide the fact that they are in control. The naïve and trusting Delano is easily duped. Cereno tells how he is ashamed to trick such a generous and kind person, but he clears up much of the masquerading mystery. By the end of the deposition, all missing details have been filled into the story line. The reader also understand more fully the series of "hints" provided to Captain Delano, which prove Melville's ingenuity in writing the tale.

Within this last section, there are several touching explanations, meant to gain the reader's sympathy. Cereno tells of the Spanish clerk who was accidentally killed as he carried jewels to present before the Virgin Mary. He also explains how he was haunted by the constant presence of "the Negro" and feared what he would do to Delano and his crew. Melville also explains how Delano stops the Spanish sailors from killing and maiming the captured slaves after the battle, proving he is a "good man" to the very end. On the journey to Lima, Peru, Delano tries to comfort Cereno, encouraging him to forget the painful past and anticipate his friendly future in the attentive presence of the monks. He also thanks Cereno for saving his life. Cereno insists that it is Delano who has saved him from certain death. The final sympathetic note is the fact that Cereno, so broken in body and spirit by the trauma of the revolt, only survives for three months at the monastery before following Aranda, his leader, into death.

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