Study Guide

Benito Cereno Slavery

By Herman Melville

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An iron collar was around his neck, from which depended a chain thrice wound round his body […] (52.75)

Since Atufal was royalty in his former life, the fact that he's chained up seems particularly insulting.

"Answer," said Don Benito, still averting his glance, "say but the one word, <em>pardon, </em>and your chains shall be off." (52.81)

Cereno rarely tries to assert power, but he clashes with Atufal. Why do you think this is?

[…] but poor Babo here, in his own land, was only a poor slave; a black man's slave was Babo's, who now is the white's. (53.89)

There's a major class difference between Babo and Atufal, but Babo seems to be more in power aboard the <em>San Dominick. </em>Why do you think this is?

Here Babo, changing his previous grin of mere animal humor into an intelligent smile, not ungratefully eyed his master (57.116).

Here's a clue that Babo is putting on a certain kind of character for Delano's benefit. He's actually a really smart guy.

"Master wouldn't part with Babo for a thousand doubloons […]"

Aha, we see what you're up to, Melville. Inverting the traditional master-slave relationship and the crucial role money plays to it? Very clever, indeed.

There's naked nature, now, pure tenderness and love, thought Captain Delano, well pleased. (63.152)

Captain Delano makes lots of insulting generalizations about the slaves on the <em>San Dominick</em>, mainly reflecting his own desire to fit them into categories. It's racism, plain and simple.

[…] the servant for a moment surveyed his master, as in a toilette at least, the creature of his own tasteful hands. (77.233)

In other words, Babo is sculpting Benito Cereno like Play-Doh. Little does Captain Delano know that he's sculpting his character as well as his physical appearance.

But a sort of love quarrel, after all. (77.240)

Uh, is Captain Delano really comparing Babo and Benito Cereno's relationship to a crabby couple? Buddy, you're <em>way</em> off base.

"By the way, your tall man and timepiece, Atufal, stands without. By your order, of course?" (82.283)

Delano a) assumes that Cereno has ordered Atufal to stand guard, and b) basically refers to Atufal as a necessary object, a timepiece. Whoa, racism.

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