Essay about Death on Board

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Death On Board

The story of "Benito Cereno" contains a vicious mutiny at sea aboard the San Dominick plotted and carried out by the "valuable [human] freight" (39) - the slaves. Subsequently, this insurrection is veiled in a calculated façade to fool a naïve American captain named Delano who is unable to believe in the "malign evil in man" (37). Delano remains complacent throughout his time on the San Dominick unaware of the many indications suggesting a much more sinister situation engulfing the ship. However, clues throughout the discourse suggest what is occurring via death-filled imagery. The use of imagery associated with death in "Benito Cereno" serves on the periphery as a connection to the violent nature of the ships
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Delano encounters the "six hatchet-polishers" among the slaves on the San Dominick that "clashed their hatchets together, like cymbals" (41). Multiple slaves armed with freshly sharpened hatchets are a significant depiction of potential death repeated in the story.

The actions of impending death then surface with a more explicit act. Babo begins shaving his master when the "razor drew blood" (75). This point marks the initial transformation of death from images and latent portrayals to explicit actions. With the slaves, particularly Babo, drawing "first blood" (75).

The connotation of "first blood" implies that more bloodshed must follow. This is first shown in Babo's attempt to murder Cereno after the captain makes a daring escape leaping into Delano's boat. Although Babo's attempt fails, it does trigger Delano to react in defense of Cereno and his men. Significant bloodshed ensues on board the San Dominick and death once again has become a mainstay aboard this floating cemetery. The deaths of Babo and Cereno close the novella and provide the final deaths of members on board the San Dominick. Death in the story has changed from descriptions and imagery, to disguised actions, to many violent actual deaths.

The images of death of Babo and Cereno have moved off the San Dominick to show death is spreading further than the ship. It is no longer confined to one ship in the sea.

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