Reversing the Master and Slave Role in Benito Cereno Essay

Good Essays

Reversing the Master and Slave Role in Benito Cereno

White men held within an inch of death or even more tortuous fates at the hands of black slave-mutineers, kept alive solely to navigate the blacks to freedom--is this concept something so preposterous that it isn't conceivable? It depends upon whose eyes the insurrection is viewed through.

In "Benito Cereno," Captain Delano's extreme naivete and desensitization towards slavery greatly affect his perceptions while aboard the San Dominick. Delano's racial stereotypes, views of master and slave relationships, and benevolent racism mask the true reality of what was occurring on board despite his constant uneasiness and skepticism. At a time when slave revolts were not …show more content…

Perhaps Benito had never encountered slaves being transported on board a ship before, but even then, the relatively comfortable living conditions and extreme freedom the slaves had should have provoked him to question the situation.

At the time the story was set and written, colonialists were no strangers to the concept of slave conspiracies and slave revolts. In the decades preceding when the novel was set, there were at least seven slave revolts and conspiracies in the colonies which took the lives of thirty-nine whites in total. Eight years prior to when the story was set there was a slave revolt in the Northern province of Haiti (Bennet). This adds to the fact that a slave revolt shouldn't have been so inconceivable to Delano.

While reading "Benito Cereno" obvious clues as to what was happening upon the ship abound. Delano's suspicions arise constantly, yet are immediately justified in one manner or another or rationalized away. Many of them are quite ironic, the most major of them being, that all the while he is doubting Cereno's actions and intentions, Cereno is at the mercy of the slaves, namely Babo. In two different sections of the book, Delano "began to feel a ghostly dread of Don Benito" (Melville 68) yet about Babo, Delano states, "Faithful fellow!...Don Benito, I envy you such a friend" (57).

Another irony is when Delano is looking for a Spaniard to verify the story of their

Get Access
Get Access