seems to be a weird choice for the title, right? After all, it's
not Benito himself who's running the show (that would be Babo) or even acting
as the protagonist (that would be Delano). Cereno is just… enigmatic.
But consider that this story was written by Herman Melville,
who has a habit of titling his works after the central enigma in the
story—think Moby Dick. Much like the white whale, Cereno is the
figure upon which all the other characters pin their hopes and identities. The
slaves aspire to be
Cereno—free and in charge. Delano aspires to both help Cereno and figure out
what his deal is.
Also, like the title Moby
Dick, "Benito Cereno" is intentionally confusing. It
raises doubt as to who the protagonist and hero of the story is, or even,
indeed, if there is
a hero. When you read a 19th Century novel like Jane
Eyre, for example, you rest easy
knowing that Jane Eyre herself is the protagonist. She's right there in the
But Meville—who likes fiddling with nuances and gray
areas—picks the weakest, most impotent character in the story to use as the
titular figure. This could be his way of saying, "Abandon hope of heroes, all ye who enter here."