Study Guide

Benito Cereno in Benito Cereno

By Herman Melville

Benito Cereno

He's the Star of the Show

Benito Cereno gets the whole story named after him, which shows how important he is to the whole shebang. Or is he? When it comes down to it, Cereno is one weak, sniveling shell of a man (sorry, buddy).

Take when he first meets him as an example: Cereno is

[…] rather tall, but seemed never to have been robust, and now with nervous suffering was worn almost to a skeleton. (43.25)

Pardon us, but that doesn't sound like the kind of sea captain Amasa Delano idealizes. Cereno would probably fall over if it wasn't for the trusty Babo.

Will the Real Benito Cereno Please Stand Up?

For real: Cereno can't even stand up getting a boost from his main man. We see him "[…] seized by his cough […] with both hand to his face, on the point of falling" when Babo practically picks him up (60.131).

What's the deal with a guy who can't even stand on his own two feet? How is he a captain, anyhow? Shouldn't he be in bed with a bowl of chicken soup? Well, Cereno's weakness is a dang good cover for all the other stuff that's going on aboard the San Dominick. No one's going to question the motives of a sea captain who dissolves into coughing fits at every probing question. But something tells us that Cereno's illness isn't entirely feigned.

Cereno definitely has the shakes and shivers. Sure, you can chalk most of that up to his sickly nature, but some of it is just plain nervousness. Then again, can you blame the guy? When Babo begins to shave him, Cereno "nervously shudder[s]; his usual ghastliness was heightened by the lather" (74.219). Cereno is practically always unsure of whether his life will end as violently as his pal Alexandro's. We can forgive him a few nervous shivers here and there.

Divided He Falls

Cereno is definitely attached at the hip to Babo. Again, that seems like a convenient way of keeping the mutiny hushed up. But Cereno really demonstrates his commitment by dying of melancholy after Babo is executed. He tells Delano that Babo's death has cast a shadow over him, causing him to pay the ultimate price (103.202).

So on some level, Cereno's life is linked to Babo. Could it be that he realizes the evils of slavery, and how desperation might lead Babo to revolt with the others? Or did he simply get wrapped up in the charade of Babo's loyalty, only to realize too late that his buddy doesn't like him that much? Too bad, Shmoopers: this question is left unanswered. As they say, dead men tell no tales.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...