Study Guide

Captain Delano in Benito Cereno

By Herman Melville

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Captain Delano

He Puts the Captain in Captain

Captain Amasa Delano is an act-first, think-later kind of guy. Why not rush off on a spontaneous adventure aboard the creepiest-looking ship of all time? That's because he's "a person of a singularly undistrustful good nature," not usually prone to being suspicious (37.4). But his "accuracy of intellectual perception" (38.4) is a little bit undeveloped.

Truth be told, there's nothing wrong with a blustery do-gooding type. Delano is just jonesing to give the poor people aboard the San Dominick as much food and water as their hearts desire. But Delano is so wrapped up in acting like a leader that he's not especially self-reflective. This gets him in trouble when he fails to see what's right under his eyes.

He Failed Ethics 101

It's pretty hard for a modern reader to root for Captain Delano when he endorses horrible stuff like slavery. He asks Benito Cereno the world's most awkward question:

"I should like to have your man here myself—what will you take for him? Will fifty doubloons be any object?" (60.133)

First of all, Delano seems to take it for granted that Cereno values money over loyalty. Secondly, trying to buy a human being violates lots of ethical principles. Slavery was far from being over in America, but abolition arguments were gaining steam in Britain in the early 18th Century, when this story takes place. Delano's neglect of these arguments shows that he's a guy who values commerce over human life. And that's pretty telling of his personal principles.

Move Aside, Sherlock Holmes

About as soon as Delano arrives on the San Dominick, he starts sniffing around for clues about what's really going on. He spends a lot of time fruitlessly wondering what Benito Cereno's deal is.

Take this little gem, for example: "But if that story was not true, what was the truth?" (59.124). Delano is close, but he doesn't deserve the prize cigar. He knows someone is lying, but he assumes that Cereno is the mastermind, because he can't conceive of a slave like Babo having the wherewithal to lie. That's his fatal flaw—he's too racist to be observant (which is kind of like saying that it's too cold to be hot, right? Racism and keen observation don't really go hand in hand ever).

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