Everything is Gray-vy
"Benito Cereno"is set against a persistently gray sky, shrouding everything
around it in a spooky-looking mist. Even in the happy-seeming harbor of St.
Maria, the gray sky seems foreboding:
was mute and calm; everything gray […] The sky seemed a gray surtout […]
Shadows present, foreshadowing deeper shadows to come. (37.3)
That seems like some pretty explicit fore-shadowing (hey-o!)
It's not the sky that's gray in this story; morals seem to
be a sort of gray area for "Benito Cereno". Since Melville published this story in the
time leading up to the Civil War, plenty of sympathy would be directed towards
the rebel Babo—he wants to be free, and acts out of desperation.
But Babo isn't entirely portrayed as a good guy. Neither is
Captain Delano, who seems a little too eager to buy Babo from Benito Cereno.
Cereno himself seems incapable of making any moral judgment. Perhaps that gray
sky is indicative of a little more than poor weather.
And, as a final thought: what colors combine to form gray?
That's right: black and white. And what is the central conflict in "Benito
Cereno?" You got it: it's between white slave-owners and black slaves—and
between the roles that white men and black men were supposed to take in the
early 19th Century. When white Delano tussles with black Babo, the
combination is gray. When the black slaves become masters and the white masters
become slaves: hoo boy. Gray area city.