Literature Study GuidesBenito CerenoSection 4 A Fair Wind Summary

Benito Cereno | Study Guide

Herman Melville

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Benito Cereno | Section 4 (A Fair Wind) | Summary

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Summary

The whaling boat, named the Rover, arrives, and everyone helps unload the water casks. Captain Delano, with Cereno's grudging permission, doles out water to everyone. They hand around food brought by Delano's sailors, and then the boat sets off again back to Captain Delano's ship. Delano sends word to his chief officer that he will try to bring the San Dominick to anchor before nightfall but not to worry if it takes longer. Delano asks Benito Cereno if the San Dominick's own boats were lost in the storms at Cape Horn, and Cereno confirms they were lost in the gales but is confused by the mention of Cape Horn. Delano, in response, is confused as well, because Cereno had originally said that was where they ran into the terrible storms. Babo changes the focus and reminds Cereno it is his shaving time, and the three men continue the conversation in a large cabin called the "cuddy." The narrator describes the cabin and the Spanish method of shaving in detail.

When Cereno moves, it becomes clear to Delano that fabric around his neck to protect it while shaving is actually the Spanish flag. Cereno and Delano resume their conversation, wherein Delano points out how strange it is that the San Dominick's voyage between Cape Horn and St. Maria took two months, when the voyage normally takes only a few days. Cereno explained they were held up by becalmed sea and strange currents. Delano is struck with the notion that Babo and Cereno are acting out some sort of strange play in front of him as Cereno talks and Babo continues to shave him.

After Cereno's shave is done, the man sits again in gloomy silence and Captain Delano leaves the cabin. A few moments later Babo comes out with a cut cheek, claiming Cereno cut him as retribution for Babo slipping a little with the razor while shaving. But a few minutes later Babo helps Cereno again as if nothing happened. Cereno's steward leads them to dinner, and while they dine, Delano attempts to ask for a private meeting with Cereno to talk about financial arrangements for the sails and other necessary items Delano will give the St. Dominick. Cereno refuses to send away Babo, which causes Captain Delano to feel resentful. After deciding the prices, Delano looks outside and notices a breeze stirring in the correct direction to help move the ship into shore, and he becomes excited.

Cereno is unmoved by Captain Delano's excitement about the wind. Captain Delano leaves him and goes out onto the deck to begin to pilot the ship into the cove. As he begins giving orders to the remaining sailors, he notices Babo repeating those orders to many of the black community on board, who immediately begin helping. After making sure everything is in order, Captain Delano heads back to the cabin where Cereno is sitting, hoping to catch him alone for a few moments. However, as he arrives through one door Babo arrives simultaneously through another. The ship moves quickly into the bay until it is close alongside Captain Delano's ship. Captain Delano invites Cereno to come aboard, but Cereno claims he cannot. Disgusted with Cereno's bad manners, Delano goes to return to his ship. As he moves across the San Dominick, he is again assailed by fears and suspicions. When he steps into the sunlight of the deck and sees his boat waiting for him, however, he brushes his fears aside again. Cereno comes out on deck and shakes Captain Delano's hand as the captain steps into his boat. Delano notes Cereno's reluctance to let go.

Analysis

A series of strange events that, unsurprisingly, Captain Delano manages to rationalize or set aside unfolds throughout this section of the narrative. First, despite Captain Delano's waves of trepidation, he still seems to feel safe enough to send his boat away again after the supplies have been unloaded. This contrasts with his earlier feelings of relief at having sighted the boat.

Delano seems to go back and forth between extreme prejudice and goodwill towards the black people on board the ship. Sometimes he is intensely moved by Babo's care of Cereno or the sight of a black woman with her child. Other times he clearly assumes black people are a "lesser" race and is puzzled by Cereno's occasional equal treatment of the black passengers. With a genial attitude, clearly thinking himself generous and open-minded, Captain Delano expresses his belief that "most negroes are natural valets and hair-dressers." What is implied by this statement is that Delano believes black people occupy a lower position socially and evolutionarily, being made to wait on white people. While Captain Delano might have been a relatable and likeable character in the era in which this narrative was written, it is much more difficult to set aside his racism to find him an acceptable one in any contemporary reading.

The following strange occurrences that Captain Delano observes mostly relate to Babo. Delano notices a strange moment between Babo and Cereno while Babo is getting ready to shave Cereno. He stands there poised with the razor, and Delano has a notion of Babo as an executioner getting ready to take off the head of his victim. This scene is full of foreboding and is the first inkling that something is strange between Babo and Cereno. When Babo later accidentally cuts Cereno, Cereno shows nothing aside from fear. Delano comments that he feels like he is watching a play, which implies there is a feeling that somehow Babo and Cereno are putting on a show for Delano, but to what end is unclear. This whole slightly surreal scene, complete with the Spanish flag being used as a neck towel, concludes when Babo runs out of the cabin in distress that his master cut him on the cheek with the razor. It is curious Cereno shows no anger towards toward Babo in front of Captain Delano but slashes him with the razor as soon as Delano has left. This whole interplay between Babo and Cereno raises more question marks in an already very strange and foreboding atmosphere. Finally, a key moment happens as Delano races back to Cereno's cabin in hopes of speaking with him without Babo present, and Babo seems to have raced back so as to prevent this from happening. This scene provides a strong hint as to the nature of Babo's and Cereno's real relationship and heightens the sense of foreboding.

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