Study Guide

Benito Cereno Cunning and Cleverness

By Herman Melville

Cunning and Cleverness

[…] the black with one arm still encircled his master, at the same time keeping his eye fixed on his face, as if to watch for the first sign of restoration, or relapse, as the event might prove. (46.35)

Babo's smart to keep such close tabs on Cereno. He's got the perfect excuse to watch him like a hawk.

"But it is Babo here to whom I owe not only my preservation, but likewise to him, chiefly, the merit is due to pacifying his more ignorant brethren […]" (47.43)

Clever strategy or totally sincere? What do you think, Shmoopers?

But Don Benito, apparently hardly yet completely restored, and again interrupted by his cough, made but some broken reply. (61.134)

The jury's still out on whether or not Cereno is a hypochondriac. His timing is just phenomenal if he's not play-acting. Or maybe he's trying to use his coughs like a weird, germy Morse code. What do you think, Shmoopers?

"Now, master," he said, readjusting the flag, and pressing the head gently further back into the crotch of the chair, "now, master," and the steel glanced nigh the throat (75.222)

There's cleverness on lots of different levels here. Babo deftly manipulates Benito Cereno to do his bidding, while Melville crafts an intense scene that's all about the little details.

As he said the words, his face was turned half round, so as to be alike visible to the Spaniard and the American […] (76.229)

Not only does Babo have to be clever, he has to meet different cultural expectations. And he has to keep an eye on everything at once. Why, then, does he let Cereno slip through his fingers?

[…] Babo had given master one little scratch, and for the first time in so many a day, too. (77.236)

By emphasizing his distress at causing even the slightest harm to Cereno, Babo has Delano right where he wants him: totally disarmed.

"This is an uncommonly intelligent fellow of yours, Don Benito," whispered Captain Delano across the table. (79.252)

Delano's assessment of Babo's intelligence is purely based on the servant's ability to guess what his master wants. That's more than a little insulting.

At last catching his host's eye, Captain Delano, with a slight backward gesture of his thumb, whispered, "Don Benito, pardon me, but there is an interference with the full expression of what I have to say to you." (80.255)

Aww, Delano's trying to be clever. His attempt backfires, of course.

Turning, he saw Babo, now for the time acting, under the pilot, his original part of captain of the slaves. (81.271)

Do you think that Delano's finally starting to get that Babo is a worthy adversary?

That moment, across the long-benighted mind of Captain Delano, a flash of revelation swept, illuminated, in unanticipated clearness, his host's whole mysterious demeanor […] (88.318)

The realization finally dawns! Delano might not be the cleverest one, but he's starting to see the light.

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