Post Modern Analysis of “Benito Cereno”

PostModern Analysis of “Benito Cereno”

“BenitoCereno” is a book written by Herman Melville. The story isessentially a fictionalized account of a revolt by slaves against thewhite crew, an event that happens on a ship, “San Dominick,”sailing in the Pacific and captained by Don Benito Cereno. In 1799,the story goes, Amasa Delano, the captain to “Bachelor`s Delight,”spotted “San Dominick “sailing off the Chilean coast seemingdistressed. He loads his boat, The Rover, with some supplies andfood, and steps on it to board “San Dominick.” He notices thatthe ship is ferrying a cargo of slaves, accompanied by women andchildren, and sends for more supplies and food. Amasa Delano isperturbed by Benito’s timidity and the strange behavior of theslaves. Don Benito Cereno informs him the ship is on a voyage fromBuenos Aires and headed for Lima, and ferrying three hundred slavesand accompanied by 50 crews, many of who have been killed by stormsand diseases. However, Delano is disturbed by incidents he observesamong the oakum-pickers and hatchet-polishers, especially when aBlack boy stubs a White boy. It would later occur to him that thesituation in the ship was bloody slave revolt and not storm anddiseases as claimed.

Thenovella has elicited questions of what the central theme is. Indeed,the issue lends itself as a problematic one because the book has beensubject to conflicting interpretations. Some critics, for instance,have asserted the story is a reflection of attitudes that prevailedagainst the blacks and slavery in the US. However, groups of criticsthat have read the story infer it has nothing to do with thereflection of racism, but human depravity. Others have only gonefurther to assert the core theme as Satanism and evil in action.Therefore, the whole debate leads to the central question — what isthe actual theme presented in “Benito Cereno”?

Approachingthe Issue

Tobe able to accomplish its goal, this analysis seeks to assess “BenitoCereno” by narrowing on the validity of hypothesized themes —racismand slavery, human deprivation, and Satanism and evil. In line withthis, this analysis shall purpose to answer several crucial thatunderlie the subject. In particular, does “Benito Cereno” trulypresent the themes of racism and slavery, human deprivation, andSatanism and evil, in the first place? If so, which of these themescomes out strongly to attribute as the primary subject of “BenitoCereno”? If not so, what are the themes to rule out and howadequate is the evidence to show “Benito Cereno” only fits to beascribed a certain theme?

Therefore,in its assessment, the analysis shall essentially be interested inwhether there any actions and speeches that fortify the mentionedthemes, as well as the extent they assert them as true themes of thenovella.

Findings Thisanalysis finds that, while it is possible to defendhuman deprivation and evil themes, and even infer other themesbesides them — “Benito Cereno” can be most accurately assertedas a piece of literature that embodies attitudesleveled at the blacks and slavery at the time.


Theevidence of the theme of slavery is vivid. The ship, San Dominick,which is captained by Don Benito Cereno, carries a cargo of slaves,who include women and young children. Cereno informs Delano the shipcontained three hundred slaves. Considering the ship is on a voyagefrom Buenos Aires and headed for Lima, it can be inferred that theship is moving slaves from Argentina to Peru. The revolt that ensuesis slaves against the White crew, and this largely follows the slavesare not happy with what they are facing. In this regard, the revoltis essentially an attempt to liberate them from the suffering. Whathad caused the problem to the voyage and resulted in the deaths ofthe crews, as it would later occur to Delano, was not the storm andepidemic but the revolt of slavery under the command of Babo.

Itseems the theme of slavery is combined with slavery. Delano isdisturbed by incidents he observes among the oakum-pickers andhatchet-polishers, for instance, when a black boy stubs a white one.Ideally, while this incidence might depict the dissent arising fromracial differences, it can be largely inferred as orchestrated byslavery. Indeed, slaves were predominantly the Black while the crewmembers were the White. This point implies that any revolt againstslavery would be the black against the white. To some degree,nevertheless, racism separately plays out strongly. When Delanoapproached San Dominick, and the slaves create a delusion that thesurviving whites were still under control, he asks Benito, “You aresaved what has cast such a shadow upon you?” Benito, having beensaddened by the twist of events, replied, “The Negro” (pp 65).Ideally, the word “Negro” connotes the constrained relationshipbetween the Black and the White. Indeed, this view is plausiblebecause if Benito were within Slavery context, he would have used theword “slave’ instead of ‘negro.`

Babohappens to have exercised tactical strategy in leading fellow slavesto liberate themselves. He pretends he is an excellent servant, andeven his master falls for this pretense. Babo is seen to constantlyprovide his service to Cereno, who believes in so trusting that hecannot be away from him for a moment, not even when Delano asksCereno to talk to him in private. The truth, however, is that Babo islooking for a chance to slay Cereno, and will not hesitate to do soeven when shaving him. Although the event in which Babo draws bloodfrom his master, Cereno during shaving might be argued to representSatanism, it does not find the adequate defense. After all, if itindeed the author wanted to depict Satanism, he needed not to haveseen the essence of making his Black character draw blood from theWhite character, for that only alludes to bloody slavery revolt andracism. In essence, if Babo drew blood from his master, Cereno, thenit was because he wanted to kill him, and that would be solely forthe reason that Babo and other slaves wanted to liberate themselves.Indeed, Babo’s intention comes out when the American steps into theRover to take off. Captain Delano, in the attempt of fleeing, springsover the bulwarks and falls at the feet of Delano, and three sailorsfollow him. Babo, who holds a dagger in his hands and is joined bymany other slaves chase them. The assertion of the slavery and racismas the key themes does not come by any surprise because the period inwhich the story refers that 1799 happens to coincide with timeslavery and racism were already a rooted social challenge.

Thethemes of the evil and human deprivation are also evident. However,if they feature, they only tend to assert themselves as thesubthemes, branching from slavery and racism. In particular, slaveryand racism are the evil ways of the society, yet slavery is in itselfa human deprivation of liberty. In this regard, when blood is shed,many of the crews are dead, and Babo is eventually tried andsentenced to execution without being allowed to say a word in hisdefense, the story adequately mirrors the evil ways that deprivelife, and for which the society seems unashamed about. Indeed, thisshameless in evil and life deprivation is seen when the author notesBabo’s body was burnt, and his head was “… fixed on a pole inthe Plaza, met, unabashed, the gaze of the whites&quot (pp 67).


Inconclusion, the aim of this paper has been to analyze the core themeof “Benito Cereno.” This analysis has been motivated by competingviews on what the actual theme is, divided among slavery and racism,human depravity and evil. The issue leads to the question of what isthe real theme asserted in “Benito Cereno”? The analysis findsthat, indeed, while it is possible to defend human deprivation, andevil, and even infer other themes besides them — “Benito Cereno”can be most accurately asserted as a piece of literature thatembodies attitudes leveled at the blacks and slavery at the time.Moreover, the themes of the evils and human deprivation, if theyfeature, they only tend to assert themselves as the subthemesbranching from slavery and racism.


Melville,Herman.BenitoCereno. ThePiazza Tales,1855,Print