Study Guide

Benito Cereno The Supernatural

By Herman Melville

The Supernatural

"Were your friend's remains now on board this ship, Don Benito, not thus strangely would the mention of his name affect you." (51.72)

Delano doesn't get a lot of things right, but he seems to intuitively know that Aranda's body is still on board. What's that about?

This poor fellow now, thought the pained American, is the victim of that sad superstition which associates goblins with the deserted body of man, as ghosts with an abandoned house. (51.73)

While we've never heard this particular suspicion, a goblin-infested body seems like it could be an interesting plot development on The Walking Dead.

Has he been robbing the trunks of dead cabin passengers? (57.119)

This seems like a pretty specific thing for Delano to focus on, but he's used to keeping a crew in check. Is it possible this was a problem on his own ship?

Above all, he began to feel a ghostly dread of Don Benito. (58.122)

There's just something about Benito Cereno. Freud might say he inspires a sense of the uncanny

Or, in his haunted mood at the moment, had some random, unintentional motion of the man, while busy with the stay as if repairing it, been mistaken for a significant beckoning? (65.161)

Okay, okay. "Haunted" in this sentence doesn't have to do with the ghost variety, but it definitely evokes a ghostly sense. Even the slightest movement has meaning for Captain Delano.

Seeing him relapsing into his forbidding doom, and still remaining seated, Captain Delano […] withdrew, on pretense of seeing whether, as he had prophesied, any signs of a breeze were visible. (77.234)

Benito Cereno has the creepy tendency of just suddenly retreating inward. Chalk it up to his sickness, his nervousness, or something else going on…we just know it's spooky.

[…] as the bleached hull swung round towards the open ocean, death for the figurehead, in a human skeleton, chalky comment on the chalked words below, FOLLOW YOUR LEADER. (88.320)

The worst part of this revealing of Aranda's skeleton is its suddenness. Seems like an awfully strange coincidence that it would happen at the exact moment Cereno escapes…

"Tis he, Aranda! My murdered, unburied friend!" (88.321)

Seeing the skeleton of your best buddy has to do some major psychological damage. Did Cereno know he was there the whole time?

It was nearly night, but the moon was rising.

There's nothing like a full moon to illuminate a battlefield (on the ocean). There's a weird kind of comparison being made about the serene natural world and the violence of humanity.

With creaking masts, she came heavily round to the wind, the prow slowly swinging into view of the boats, its skeleton gleaming in the horizontal moonlight […] (90.331)

Melville seems to be revving up for a theatrical performance. The skeleton has the spotlight, so it should take its bow!

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