Benito Cereno and American Characteristic

“Benito Cereno” is a work that exceedingly depicts how ideological self-delusion of an American character is one of the most dangerous capacities of mankind. Captain Delano a Yankee from “Duxbury Massachusetts” exemplifies these two American cultures of concerning nature and confidence. As Americans we have concerned and helped other less fortunate (i. e. the amount we donate to help third world countries), we are also confident and fearless in nature that we can accomplish anything (i. e. American dream).

These traditional American characteristics I believe forms the American arrogance that we are stereotyped to have. We maybe helping others we have no business helping. Just like the American culture Delano truly believes he is doing the right thing, by showing concern and having confidence in being able to help the San Dominick slave-ship and he is incapable of seeing the horrifying consequences of his actions both with respect to his “friendly racism” and his fantasy of “superiority”. He spends a day on the San Dominick following a slave mutiny, never quite aware that anything is wrong until the truth all but bites his head off.

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Delano subscribes to a typical 'Northern' view of African slaves: he considers them to be naturally good-natured, submissive servants. He spends much of his time aboard the San Dominick condescendingly admiring Babo's performance. Melville critiques this naivete arrogance of superiority and friendly racism to which although these characteristic are positive if not careful, can be a barrier that blinds a person from seeing the actual situation. 'None wore fetters, because the owner, his friend Aranda, told him that they were all tractable' (BC 224) As Delano first boards Benito's ship, the slaves are still unfettered. The ship seems unreal; these strange costumes, gestures, and faces, but a shadowy tableau just emerged from the deep, which directly must receive back what it gave' (BC). This 'shadowy tableau,' on the ship inhabited mostly by unregulated African slaves, roaming around freely is there for Captain Delano to develop his own understanding as to why this ship culture is the way it is. Having the traditional American character of concern, Delano in nature is concerned about the ship and his intention of genuinely helping the troubled captain Benito Cereno becomes a curtain that prevents him from seeing the real intentions of the slaves.

Symbols that have previously been formed and encoded by the American culture and upbringing in the back of his mind; Delano's 'trustful good nature' makes him accept the image of the faithful slaves in his understanding of the unknown Africans slaves on the ship. With this idea of faithful slaves, confronted with a genuine signs and warning; the frail captain Benito Cereno, the vigilant Babo, chained Atufal, the oakum-pickers and hatchet-polishers, the flaring moments of violence and unease---he is not capable of understanding and arranging them accurately or truthfully.

This trustful and concerned nature of Americans is one of the characters Captain Delano represents. That an American upbringing create a perception even today that we, as a country, had a right to go around the world helping other struggling nations who were beset by tyrants or internal fighting with the attendant killing and raping of the populace. This trusting and concerned nature makes us delusional preventing us from seeing the facts that maybe these country America is helping does not want our help.

The same goes for captain Delano his trustful nature creates a delusion of “faithful and harmless slaves” that helping this slave ship and its current condition of unfettered slaves is a result of the poor management of Captain Delano’s lesser Hispanic counter Captain Benito Cereno therefore his is obliged to help to get it under control. This concerning nature blinds Captain Delano from seeing the truth. Before even making contact with the blacks on the ship, Delano readily stresses their good-natured and pristine qualities.

These 'unsophisticated Africans,' with their 'self-content' and 'peculiar love . . . of uniting industry with pastime,' (BC) bring out Delano's 'weakness for negroes. ' In his understanding of them, they are a mixture of docility and nobility. Delano feels confident as he sees 'the affectionate zeal' and 'good conduct' (BC) As this book reveals, Delano alternates between his images of the Africans as an innocent faithful slaves, he completely misinterprets the slave revolt and totally neglects the blacks' inner motivations.

While revealing how Delano adapts these ideological images of the black man to fit his own understanding. This confidence from his own American upbringing and staying in his own paradigm of slaves being kind in nature, and are submissive servants make Captain Delano a benign racist. He does not express hate for the black people; he likes them. But his fondness of them shows in a characteristic of overconfidence or arrogance, in which that he is confident in his own knowledge that the slaves are obedient creatures, incapable of harm and completely demeaning the black slaves.

He considers Babo, for instance, to be a childish slave of limited intelligence. In Delano's understanding, the faithful blacks are closer to animal nature than the white man is. Delano's dialogue continuously dehumanizes the slaves by attaching animal imagery to them. First, as the narrator mentions, 'Delano took to negroes, not philanthropically, but genially, just as other men to Newfoundland dogs' (BC).

When Babo looks up at Don Benito, he is 'like a shepherd's dog,' (BC) whose grins denote 'mere animal humor' (BC). These references and comparison to animals of the slaves becomes not to decline them as human, but instead to acknowledge them within the white community in their position as docile servants, the image of the dog, domesticated animal, is significant in this context. At the same time, their animal reference accounts for their inability for being totally free.

This show of confidence and trust completely blinds Captain Delano from the truth and maybe be seen by the majority as a weakness but this ignorance ultimately helped him from the slave revolt. Delano's trustfulness and perception that all the blacks are docile and faithful slaves and are good nature saves their lives. Delano's ignorance prevents him from discovering the truth, which would almost certainly lead him to a untimely demise.

Cereno conveys his surprise that Babo refrained from murdering Delano,  Cereno conveys his surprise that Babo refrains from murdering Delano, 'to think of some things you did - those smilings and chattings, rash pointings and gesturings. For less than these, they slew my mate' (BC) This reinforces the fact that if Delano makes any indication of recognizing the truth, he would have been killed on the spot. Delano’s confident, arrogant and absolutely insulting demeanor and perception of slaves being too stupid to be able to formulate a revolt ultimately saves him and Benito Cereno.

If Delano is not so unaware of the events encircling him and exhibits a little more suspicion, Babo would certainly have him executed. This confidence that conveys a typical American characteristic is also part of Captain Delano’s. This confidence created a barrier that prevented him from once again seeing the truth in the situation. An arrogant demeanor that he underestimates his adversary, in which nine out of ten will completely destroy you but in this particular story turned out to be an advantage.

Captain Delano’s overconfidence in his own “limited” knowledge and upbringing and from his own experiences growing up, and perhaps his interaction with the black community, he views them as a lesser being forming an idea of himself as a superior or idea of white supremacy that completely limits his understanding and cannot read the gravity of the situation. This overconfidence in his understanding became ignorance and although I believed it helped him from getting killed on the ship by Babo and the slaves, is the same overconfidence that can potentially be deadly.

With the revelation of the slave revolt, we should realize that one of the main reasons Delano has been incapable of seeing through the masquerade has been his benign racism, in which that he see’s the slaves as harmless and too stupid to come up with such an idea. Delano’s racism can be understood most directly it seems to be a reflection of his upbringing in a somewhat liberal Northern racism that practice anti-slavery views (it’s important to remember Delano is from Massachusetts, a hotbed of anti-slavery activity during the period).

The story suggests that Delano, like others who viewed slaves sympathetically, may have a weak recognition of the horrors of slavery and may consider himself the slaves’ friend, but such feelings depend on viewing himself as superior to the slaves and to the slaves staying in their appointed position of submission. In conclusion while Delano finds blacks utterly charming and 'fun-loving,' fond of bright colors and of 'uniting industry with pastime,' this 'admiration' masks his deep-seated conviction that blacks are not entirely human.

In fact, when in the midst of trying to understand the odd occurrences on the San Dominick, it briefly occurs to Delano that Cereno might be in league with the blacks, he dismisses the thought with a shudder: 'who ever heard of a white so far a renegade as to apostatize from his very species almost, by leaguing in against it with Negroes? ' (BC). This proves once again his overconfidence in his understanding limiting him from seeing the big picture that the slaves are controlling the situation. He can never imagine that the slaves are the one who thought up the grandiose plan, that he thinks Captain Cereno is orchestrating something gainst his kin. He fails to discern that the Spanish vessel is in fact in the hold of a complex, meticulously plotted mutiny, that the slaves have successfully revolted, and that the dutiful Babo is in fact the revolutionary in command. Delano's trusting and overconfidence in this regard is very nearly fatal, and in a way that the text explains, and that critics have frequently described, it is his concerning, unselfconscious, absolutely stubborn ideology of slaves and creates a benign racism---his offhand white supremacism---that drives and sustains this ignorance.

Despite his several moments of deep suspicion, is his unmoved confidence that a slave like Babo, so naturally docile, so ideally suited to those watchful and pleasant 'avocations about one's person,' could never surpass the 'unaspiring contentment of a limited mind' common to all Africans (BC). The blacks in league with a piratical Cereno? 'But they were too stupid,' Delano reminds himself (BC).

Believing this, he cannot see what's before him, because of his paradigm and views of the slaves in a northern upbringing of being sympathetically to the slaves, He is incapable of imagining the black slaves in any but a passive role of devoted and faithful servants, docile and incapable of harming their white superiors, This overconfidence is ultimately ignorance that Delano cannot perceive the true situation on the San Dominick.

Works Cited

Page Melville, Herman, and Herman Melville. Bartleby ; And, Benito Cereno. New York: Dover Publications, 1990. Print.



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