Benito Cereno by Herman Melville Essay

Excerpt from Essay :



Another fairly salient example of the irony between the relationship between Babo and Cereno is presented when Babo shaves the ship's captain. On a literal level, this incident appears highly indicative of the subservience of Babo to Cereno, since he is performing some mundane task for the benefit of the captain. However, a closer reexamination of the diction utilized in Melville's description of this scene in a dialogue between Babo and Cereno (between Babo and Delano) in this passage demonstrates that what appears to be concern for Cereno on the part of Babo is, ironically enough, menace. "You must not shake so, master. -- See, Don Amasa, master always shakes when I shave him. And yet master knows I never yet have drawn blood, though it's true, if master will shake so, I may some of these times." (Melville 1856). Despite the fact that Babo refers to Cereno as "master" in the preceding quotation, it is Babo who is actually the master of this situation and of Cereno, since Babo is the one wielding a sharp knife at the throat of the other, and is virtually controlling him to continue telling lies to Delano. Babo's concern for Cereno "you must not shake so" is actually a threatening warning -- one which implies that he will cut him if he reveals the truth. The irony of this situation is almost paradoxical, and is a deliberate deception on the part of Melville to build up the suspense of his surprise ending.

The full superiority of Babo's position to that of Cereno is evinced during the lunch the latter has with Delano in which the visitor wishes to discuss financial matters in private with his host. The following quotation illustrates Cereno's response and alludes to the ironic nature of his relationship with Babo. "…he assured his guest that the black's remaining with them could be of no disservice; because since losing his officers he had made Babo… not only his constant attendant and companion, but in all things his confidant" (Melville 1856). The irony of this quotation is definitely intended towards deception. Babo's presence could be of no greater "disservice," for the simple fact that it prevented Cereno from telling Delano the truth of the account of the ship. Furthermore, the nature of Babo and Cereno's is not one of companionship, but one in which the African's mastery of the European, ironically enough, is complete as the Cereno must do Babo's bidding.

Had Cereno possessed the authority to expel Babo from the room he would have been able to confide in Delano, and therefore ruined the surprise ending that Melville had planned for the reader. By utilizing this highly ironic relationship in which the slave is the master and the master is the slave, Melville is able to preserve the surreptitious nature of the true story of the San Dominick.

Works Cited

Melville, Herman. "Benito Cereno." Books Mirror. 1856. Web. Retrieved from http://books.mirror.org/melville/benitocereno/

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Works Cited

Melville, Herman. "Benito Cereno." Books Mirror. 1856. Web. Retrieved from http://books.mirror.org/melville/benitocereno/

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