Study Guide

Benito Cereno Slavery

By Herman Melville

Slavery

Slavery is <em>the</em> Big Bad theme that informs "Benito Cereno": this story is, after all, about a revolt on a slave ship.

While it's tough to get a read on Melville's opinion about the abolition movement, Babo and Atufal often seem like sympathetic characters. Clearly, they're just trying to get out of a bind and win their freedom back. But then again, we get Captain Delano being totally clueless about the evils of slavery and simply treating Babo like a piece of merchandise. It's totally possible that Melville was exploring a range of responses to slavery without actually taking a solid stance.

Questions About Slavery

  1. If Babo's plan to deceive Delano had worked, do you think the group would have eventually made their way to Senegal?
  2. Why is Atufal so unwilling to beg Benito Cereno's pardon?
  3. Cereno clearly feels a connection to Babo, but does Baboreturn any of his feelings? Does this have something to do with the difference in power between them?
  4. Why does Delano seem so insensitive to the plight of theslaves?

Chew on This

Babo's close observations of how those in power behave enables him to playact the role of an obedient slave.

Delano's preoccupation with making money prevents him from seeing Babo as a human being.

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