Study Guide

Benito Cereno Setting

By Herman Melville

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The Rollicking Sea

While the setting of "Benito Cereno" is not as sweet as the setting of The Little Mermaid,  this seascape doesn't seem like such a bad spot at the beginning.

The harbor of St. Maria, where the San Dominick is docked, is near a small, uninhabited island in the south of Chile. Since Captain Delano is American, you can bet your britches that he's midway through a fruitful expedition to make some moolah. After all, we know that he has a "valuable cargo" (37.1).

Then again, the sky is looking pretty foreboding (see Imagery for more details). It's safe to say that all that grayness on the horizon is making Captain Delano a dull boy. That is, before he spots the San Dominick in the distance.

Hanging' On the Ghost Ship

The San Dominick might not be the best choice of cruise ship for your luxury vacation. Besides the fact that it looks like it's been through the ringer, everyone looks starving enough to eat the rats that no doubt infest it. Besides, it sounds like it reeks of something worse than old socks:

Battered and moldy, the castellated forecastle seemed some ancient turret long ago taken by assault, and then left to decay. (39.12)


Forget spending time in a natural environment. The San Dominick has been so exposed to the elements it basically has its own ecosystem. Every part of the ship seems like it's seen better days. But the creepiest element of the San Dominick is what you can't see. Check out the canvas draped over the figurehead. It's not like it's hiding a human body or anything… or is it?

The point is, the San Dominick is a rough place for anyone to survive—even the sea-hardened sailors are skedaddling.

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