Study Guide

Benito Cereno Cunning and Cleverness

By Herman Melville

Cunning and Cleverness

Babo is the King of Cunning in "Benito Cereno." Come on, he practically orchestrates the whole scheme that keeps Captain Delano hoodwinked. It's kind of amazing when you think about the sheer number of things that had to work out in order to succeed: all the Spanish sailors had to be scared enough to do exactly what they were told and all the former slaves needed to play their roles perfectly. That's not just cleverness—that's organization.

One of Babo's cleverest moves is hanging Aranda's skeleton from the figurehead. Now, hear us out: it's a shocking move, but it illustrates how far he's willing to go. Too bad the canvas fell away, conveniently revealing it all to Delano.

Questions About Cunning and Cleverness

  1. Do you think Delano is utterly lacking in cunning, or is he cleverer than he appears?
  2. If Babo was so clever, can you pinpoint any mistake he made?
  3. Was it a smart move for Cereno to jump ship like he did?

Chew on This

Babo not only speaks for Cereno, he <em>thinks</em> for Cereno. That's why Cereno is so helpless without him.

"Benito Cereno" presents cleverness as an extension of necessity: you aren't clever until you <em>need</em> to be clever.

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