Literature Study GuidesBenito CerenoSection 5 The Truth Revealed Summary

Benito Cereno | Study Guide

Herman Melville

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Benito Cereno | Section 5 (The Truth Revealed) | Summary

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Summary

Captain Amasa Delano gets into his whaleboat and the boat pushes off, but Benito Cereno suddenly jumps overboard into Delano's boat. Immediately, some of the black men on board jump off and start swimming for the boat. The boat's captain manages to fend most of them off, but Babo nearly stabs Delano. Delano takes the dagger away and throws Babo to the floor of the boat, where Babo then removes a small knife from his clothes and tries to stab Cereno. Delano grabs Babo and ties him up. He has a sudden revelation that the black people on board the ship are actually the pirates and understands they murdered Cereno's friend Aranda and commandeered the ship. The covering comes off the figurehead of the ship: it is Aranda's skeleton. Upon reaching his ship, Captain Delano decides to give chase to the San Dominick, despite Cereno's pleas to leave it be.

Realizing he should stay with his ship, Captain Delano sends a force of sailors with a privateer in command to chase the San Dominick. When the boats get too close, some of the sailors on the San Dominick throw their hatchets at Delano's men, injuring one sailor. Delano's sailors fire their muskets at the San Dominick. Their intention is not to kill the sailors on board but to take them alive with the ship. Delano's sailors get the Spanish sailors who are high in the rigging to cut the sails, and then Delano's men shoot some of the leaders on board the San Dominick and are able to board in the ensuing chaos. In the battle that follows about 20 black men are killed. No white men are killed, though some are wounded. Captain Delano's men lock up the remaining black people on board the ship and sail back into the cove.

Analysis

Finally, the strange situation and all of the uneasiness becomes clear, both to Captain Delano and the reader. It seems Melville has spun his story with the intent of portraying Captain Delano as a good and just man, and therefore when the reader views the black characters through Delano's eyes, they seem good-natured and relatively harmless. There are times when Delano's own suspicions are meant to stir the reader's suspicions as well because occasionally the captain does feel a sense of menace from some of the black characters, such as the hatchet sharpeners. In the end the author paints a portrait of a captain who is too good-natured and lacks the insight needed to see the true nature of the black people on board the ships—that they are desperate pirates.

While Melville seems to be telling a very particular story of the men who mutinied and took over a ship from its "good" white officers and crew, it is difficult from a modern lens not also to see this story from the other point of view. The racist views of the protagonist and the glossing over of the fact that the black people on board were all slaves being transported have the inadvertent effect of creating sympathy for the characters who are supposed to be antagonists. For a group of slaves to overthrow and even kill their buyers or masters in a bid for freedom is viewed very differently now than it was when Melville wrote the narrative. The narrator seems to have no intention of creating sympathy for the black characters in the story, painting them rather as murderers and pirates. But to the contemporary eye they can be viewed as justified in their revolt and their desire for freedom, and the reader is given an unusual opportunity to sympathize for the antagonists, or see them in actuality not as antagonists at all.

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