- Oct 2018
the head, that hive of subtlety, fixed on a pole in the Plaza, met, unabashed, the gaze of the whites;
This final gruesome image recapitulates the moral ambiguities and multiple power reversals in the narrative. Ostensibly serving as a warning to other slaves in Lima, it is an example of an old practice in European cultures of "piking" the heads of executed convicts and enemies of the state in the public square.* As an anticipatory corrective, the practice exemplifies the physical and psychological brutality of white Christian and Catholic slave-owning colonists.
Conversely, although Babo's body has been dispensed with in a most "un-Christian" manner, (unlike, at long last, his master's) his head -- that "hive of subtlety"-- embodies the colonists' capacity for barbarity and inhumane treatment of those who do not conform to the roles and rules maintaining order. Meeting "unabashed, the gaze of the whites," and addressing his ostensible superiors on their level (albeit voicelessly) Babo's open-eyed, disembodied head remains one of the most chilling images in the novella-- one that readers encounter last, and perhaps are more likely to remember. In this way Babo ironically has "the last word" although it is nevertheless a pyrrhic victory.
*An image from the French Revolution demonstrates how the aristocracy was made to epitomize "enemies of the state," when the French people redefined the body politic, turned the tables of power, and marched with their rulers' heads on spikes.