Study Guide

Babo in Benito Cereno

By Herman Melville

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Don't Call Him a Sidekick

Captain Delano sees Babo as the perfect servant. Babo anticipates Benito Cereno's every need to an almost ridiculous extent. When Cereno falls "heavily against his supporter," he even speaks for him: "His mind wanders. He was thinking of the plague that followed the gales […]" (46.37).

But hey, someone who acts as his master's mouthpiece probably has a fair bit of power. We never really quite know how many of Babo's shipboard actions are responses to Cereno's wants and needs and how many are orders to Cereno masked in ultra-servile, how-may-I-please-you-sir-type comments.

Every Move You Make, I'm Watching You

Babo could be the narrator for "Every Breath You Take" by The Police. Keeping tabs on Cereno is basically the only way Babo can pull off the greatest charade of all time. While the perfect servant is seemingly vigilant, this quality also comes in handy for a clever man who is trying to gain his freedom.

Let's not forget Babo's greatest technical skill. He knows exactly how to wield a knife in a way that's extremely effective, yet convinces Delano that his motives are perfectly innocent. When he gives Cereno an incredibly threatening shave, he accidentally-on-purpose nicks him with the blade and says, innocently, "See, master—you shook so—here's Babo's first blood" (75.225).

Unfortunately, Babo loses the upper hand when Cereno jumps ship. Pretending it's time for Cereno's daily shave while subtly menacing him? Brilliant. Jumping into Delano's boat in a last-ditch effort to salvage his plan? A little desperate, but a good last-minute try.

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