- Oct 2018
The document selected, from among many others, for partial translation, contains the deposition of Benito Cereno
It just dawned on me! I've been reading this story wrong all along! Trying to find a way one way or another to equate Don Benito or Captain Delano to be a hero (one of my earlier annotations mentions the lack of a hero in the story), however maybe it is Babo! I villainized him, thinking poor Benito, taken hostage by the pirates. When in actuality, we are talking about slaves redeeming themselves from their captor! What a beautiful thing and truly progressive for Melville's time. This is certainly a concoction of devices by both the "author" and the "implied author!"
“Faithful fellow!” cried Captain Delano. “Don Benito, I envy you such a friend; slave I cannot call him.”
"This almost overwhelming superiority of the narrator over his characters also puts the reader in a privileged position, though with the unspoken but ever-present condition that he should draw his own conclusions from the extra knowledge imparted to him by the narrator."
Does the narrator know what is happening aboard this ship? Or only the implied author? The foreshadowing used really only becomes useful once we know the truth, so does the narrator offer us any "privileged position?" Maybe I am the only one who didn't see the end coming....
“But it is Babo here to whom, under God, I owe not only my own preservation, but likewise to him, chiefly, the merit is due, of pacifying his more ignorant brethren, when at intervals tempted to murmurings.”
"As the characters cannot free themselves from their illusions, it is only to be expected that they should take them for unquestionable reality."
Don Benito truly begins to act the role he was ordered. And similar to Captain Delano, who at this point is doing great mental gymnastics to avoid the reality that something sinister is going on aboard this ship.
Don Benito faltered; then, like some somnambulist suddenly interfered with, vacantly stared at his visitor, and ended by looking down on the deck. He maintained this posture so long, that Captain Delano, almost equally disconcerted, and involuntarily almost as rude, turned suddenly from him, walking forward to accost one of the Spanish seamen for the desired information. But he had hardly gone five paces, when, with a sort of eagerness, Don Benito invited him back, regretting his momentary absence of mind, and professing readiness to gratify him.
We never learn what makes any of the characters "tick..."
"The first part of the novel reproduces letters which Becky and Amelia write to each other. The letter makes it possible to reveal the most intimate thoughts and feelings to such a degree that the reader can learn from the correspondents themselves just who they are and what makes them ‘tick’."
The way we come into contact with all of the character is very situational, so we never are given any deeper understanding into the workings of their mind and emotions. This device is how the Implied Author is able to pull of such a surprise at the end! Because if we were to have any insight into what was going on in Don Benito's mind, the entire project would have failed.
Benito Cereno been a man of greater energy, misrule would hardly have come to the present pass
Benito Cereno is likely a man of greater energy, however If "the limitations of the novel are such that one cannot reveal a complete character, it is even more impossible to try to transcribe complete reality." We see this exemplified here and throughout the entire story.
While left alone with them, he was not long in observing some things tending to heighten his first impressions; but surprise was lost in pity, both for the Spaniards and blacks, alike evidently reduced from scarcity of water and provisions; while long-continued suffering seemed to have brought out the less good-natured qualities of the negroes, besides, at the same time, impairing the Spaniard’s authority over them.
"Vanity Fair seems bent on breaking any such direct contact with the characters, and indeed the narrator frequently goes out of his way to prevent the reader from putting himself in their place."
I never really identified with Captain Delano while reading the first time. If anything, I empathized more the slaves who would wind up being pirates! Did the Implied Author mean for me not to establish a relationship with Delano? I thought he was a nice guy for taking all those rations and supplies to the ship, but I never had any great connection to him.
Captain Delano sought, with good hopes, to cheer up the strangers
"Vanity Fair has as the subtitle, A Novel without a Hero , which indicates that the characters are not regarded as representing an ideal, exemplary form of human conduct, as established by the conventions of the eighteenth-century novel. Instead, the reader’s interest is divided between two figures who, despite the contrast in their behavior, can under no circumstances be regarded as complementary or even corrective."
Is Captain Delano the hero of the novel? Or was he merely good-natured enough to bring supplies to the weary ship and upon leaving, just happened to be the freedom Don Benito was looking for. Is Delano a hero or was he just in the right place at the right time? Is there a difference? He was thrusted into a situation he had no idea was occurring and responded with the well-groomed habits of a true gentleman of his time... but he also saved Benito's life. Hero, or behavioral role model?
Sometimes the negro gave his master his arm, or took his handkerchief out of his pocket for him; performing these and similar offices with that affectionate zeal which transmutes into something filial or fraternal acts in themselves but menial; and which has gained for the negro the repute of making the most pleasing body-servant in the world; one, too, whom a master need be on no stiffly superior terms with, but may treat with familiar trust; less a servant than a devoted companion.
A devoted companion! The Implied Author strikes again... As readers we really are so blinded by the action that we cannot see the forest through the trees. "The reader can only gain real access to the social reality presented by the implied author, when he follows the adjustments of perspective made by the narrator in viewing the events described. In order to ensure that the reader participates in the way desired, the narrator is set up as a kind of authority between him and the events, conveying the impression that understanding can only be achieved through this medium."
I think this entire work is a vivid example of the work of the Implied Author... ‘‘The ‘implied author’ chooses, consciously or unconsciously, what we read; . . . he is the sum of his own choices. . . ."
We know so little, nothing, of what is going on between the lines but the Implied Author continues on as if everything is perfectly normal, as he would want us to believe... All of the ship commotion that takes place throughout the text almost serves as a detractor from our point of view of being able to discern the reality ... and the dare i say... "Implied Reality!"
Upon this, the servant looked up with a good-natured grin, but the master started as from a venomous bite. It was a moment or two before the Spaniard sufficiently recovered himself to reply; which he did, at last, with cold constraint:–“Yes, Señor, I have trust in Babo.”
"The reader of modern novels is deprived of the assistance which the eighteenth-century writer had given him in a variety of devices ranging from earnest exhortation to satire and irony. Instead, he is expected to strive for himself to unravel the mysteries of a sometimes strikingly obscure composition."
Is Melville giving us clues with Don Benito's "venomous bite?" Are we supposed to be looking between the lines here? Obviously, for the sake of already knowing the ending, it would be beneficial, but was that the author's (notice how I didn't say implied author's) intent?
Here, passing from one suspicious thing to another, his mind revolved the strange questions put to him concerning his ship.
Do we get unmistakable clues in Benito? Or is it simply irony and foreshadowing that do the job?
"the reader does have to make his own discoveries, but the author provides him with unmistakable clues to guide him in his search."
as if silent signs, of some Freemason sort, had that instant been interchanged.
This seems to be a good example of the Implied Author who knows what the meaning behind these Freemason signs is, but doesn't declare it as narrator, or... "This simulated relationship gives the reader the impression that he and the author are partners in discovering the reality of human experience. In this reader-oriented presentation of the world, one can see an historical reflection of the period when the possibility of a priori knowledge was refuted, leaving fiction as the only means of supplying the insight into human nature denied by empirical philosophy."
this appearance was modified, and the true character of the vessel was plain–a Spanish merchantman of the first class, carrying negro slaves, amongst other valuable freight, from one colonial port to another.
In this sentence the vessel is personified as having a “character” based on the “appearance” of its transportation of slaves. The implication of “appearance” would have a great deal of visual weight for Melville’s audience during the fraught period just before the civil war, when images of the slave ship often circulated as an abolitionist tool. Images—such as the one below—served as a means to quantify the and evoke sympathy for the very human struggle experienced during the middle passage. ￼ ￼
The subjective qualifications through Melville’s language, and personification of the boats plays in contrast to the objective, quantified, and highly circulated images of the slave ships but to a parallel descriptive effect. Comparatively, both the images and the text from Melville serve as rhetorical objects to discus a moral and factual idea. Interestingly, the slave ship is Spanish, not British, which would have been generally atypical for an American audience; this would conversely create a foreign or exotic relationship to the ship rather than the familiar English slave trade model.
Wood, Marcus. Blind Memory: visual representations of slavery in England and America 1780-1865. Manchester University Press. Chapter 2.
his glance fell upon the row of small, round dead-lights–all closed like coppered eyes of the coffined–and the state-cabin door, once connecting with the gallery, even as the dead-lights had once looked out upon it, but now calked fast like a sarcophagus lid
Melville imbues this seemingly merely descriptive passage of the state of disarray of the Saint Dominick with foreboding images of death.
Delano's glance falls on the deadlights, which the OED defines as "a strong wooden or iron shutter fixed outside a cabin-window or port-hole in a storm, to prevent water from entering." He then notes that they are "closed like the coppered eyes of the coffined" referring to the practice of placing coins on the eyes of the dead--a gesture evolved from the ancient Greek tradition of providing a corpse with "Charon's obol" (see reference below)--money to pay the ferryman Charon to cross the River Styx to the underworld. He rounds the passage with an even more final closing of the windows behind the deadlights, noting they are "now calked fast like a sarcophagus lid" and referencing the most lasting of burial options: the stone coffin.
References to these formal and ancient burial methods serve not only serve as ominous observations, but they provide stark contrast to the grotesque reversal of funerary rites given to Benito Cereno's best friend, Don Alexandro Aranda. Rather than be sealed up and given his fare to the next life, the slaves have laid his bones bare and nailed them to the prow, forcing his spirit ever to wander the sea. In the deposition that follows the initial episode, Cereno reports his desperation over exactly that fate, asking Babo about his friend's remains and "if still on board, whether they were to be preserved for interment ashore, entreating him [Babo] so to order it."
For more on Charon's obol, see: Stevens, Susan T. “Charon's Obol and Other Coins in Ancient Funerary Practice.” Phoenix, vol. 45, no. 3, 1991, pp. 215–229. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1088792.
master and man
This is the fourth use of this phrase to describe the pair of Benito Cereno and Babo, seemingly (respectively) the master and the man.
Travis has well pointed out that the casting of Babo as a man here separates him from his black shipmates who are regarded as animals--an elevation reinforced by his dress, his language skills, and his proximity to Cereno.
Beyond its alliterative quality, the phrase's repetition seems certain of the natural order of the perceived relationship. In Delano's eyes, Don Cereno must be the master, and Babo--even as an exception to his race--the man. We learn, of course, that Babo has made himself the master of the man Benito Cereno, which the Norton commentary reminds us is his Cereno's ultimate unmanning. We also learn that Babo is the mastermind of the revolt and perhaps emblematic of enslavement's ultimate undoing--of mastering the "masters."
(On a side note, the tricky issue of who rules whom in the relationship of "master and man" may be the thematic thread that joins all that I've read of Melville: Bartleby, this, and Moby Dick.)
The reference to the legendary Gordian knot gains greater intratextual significance as Melville places it in the context of the temple of Ammon in Egypt rather than Phrygia (an ancient town in what is now western Turkey) where the knot was severed by Alexander the Great. According to Andrew Collins of the University of Queensland, Alexander traveled to the temple to confirm rumors that he was a son of the Egyptian god Ammon-Ra, which would legitimize his kingship over Egypt as foretold by the act of solving (or dissolving) the Gordian knot.
The inclusion of that element of the Gordian knot story may suggest a parallel to the genesis of the power struggle in Benito Cereno: the West's claims of superiority and dominion over black Africans, whose roots are found in the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Nubia.
For more, see: Andrew Collins. “ALEXANDER'S VISIT TO SIWAH: A NEW ANALYSIS.” Phoenix, vol. 68, no. 1/2, 2014, pp. 62–77. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.7834/phoenix.68.1-2.0062.
Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones
The reference here to the "Valley of the Dry Bones" in Ezekiel may seem paradoxical: after all, this is the sea, with little of anything dry in sight. But the reference has resonance, even beyond the general atmosphere of decay and death Melville has depicted in this story. Bones are mentioned a few times in the text, including when the Bachelor's Delight's longship is described as "warped as a camel's skeleton in the desert" and, more importantly, as the reader learns that the slaves in revolt replaced the Saint Dominick's figurehead carving of Christopher Columbus with the murdered bones of Alexandro Aranda, the slave owner.
In chapter 37 of the book of Ezekiel, the prophet is brought by God to a valley filled with dried bones. God exhorts him to preach to the bones, to bid them rise up and come alive, to re-incorporate with tenons and muscles and skin and breath, which Ezekiel does. The result in verse 10: "So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army."
God explains himself in the next two verses, saying to Ezekiel, “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel."
At the very least, the reference is rich with the connection to what the bones say: "Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off." Certainly, this seems true for Benito Cereno, cut off from all hope, as the reader finds him a few pages later.
The full nature of this reference, though, may have two distinct meanings: one seen through the eyes of the Westerners and one through the eyes of the slaves. To the Westerners (including Delano and Benito), the reference may suggest that the slave revolt will be ultimately unsuccessful. That the bones will figuratively rise up (with the help of the "army" of Delano's crew) and restore hope in the system in which Europeans and Americans enslave. But through the eyes of the slaves, alike to the Israelites in their own history with enslavement, this may portend the ultimate wrath of God against the perpetrators of the institution of slavery.
“Your ships generally go–go more or less armed, I believe, Señor?”
This is a true red flag that these weapons are going to be used! It is a pivotal point in the story, because as readers we now hear the suspicious Don Benito asking about Delano's arms. What's ironic is that Delano doesn't spend much time pondering that exchange as much as he does others that were less exciting.
I had a hard time reading this word and the male equivalent over and over, so I googled this term to see is there was anything remotely useful about its historicity or anything of the like. I found this sculpture/bust... https://www.wga.hu/html_m/c/carpeaux/negress.html
Fortunately, the artist, Carpeaux, wanted to expose the horrors of slavery with its depiction.
I thought this was French at first, but it is "an act of reconnoitring; a reconnaissance (OED)," which refers to making a military observation or gathering intelligence.
“Master wouldn’t part with Babo for a thousand doubloons,”
I love the foreshadowing here. I remember feeling uneasy when I first read this line. It is as if we can see Babo's lying eyes at this part.
“Or else–give way for your lives,” he wildly added, starting at a clattering hubbub in the ship, above which rang the tocsin of the hatchet-polishers; and seizing Don Benito by the throat he added, “this plotting pirate means murder!” Here, in apparent verification of the words, the servant, a dagger in his hand, was seen on the rail overhead, poised, in the act of leaping, as if with desperate fidelity to befriend his master to the last; while, seemingly to aid the black, the three white sailors were trying to clamber into the hampered bow. Meantime, the whole host of negroes, as if inflamed at the sight of their jeopardized captain, impended in one sooty avalanche over the bulwarks.
The ultimate dash of irony in the story... poor Captain Delano is still ignorant to what is really happening and has truly given in to his suspicions that Don Benito has ulterior motives. It was hard keeping up with the action in this part because as readers we are clueless too.
The ship was now within less than two miles of the sealer. The whale-boat was seen darting over the interval. To be brief, the two vessels, thanks to the pilot’s skill, ere long neighborly style lay anchored together.
This ends the 2nd part of the serialization in the November, 1855 issue of Putnam's.
“Benito Cereno.” Putnam’s Monthly, vol. 6, no. 35, Nov. 1855, pp. 459–473. EBSCOhost, proxy.library.nyu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=h9k&AN=51987907&site=ehost-live.
And for me, the final issue released in December, 1855 provides the most exciting part of the story.
“Benito Cereno.” Putnam’s Monthly, vol. 6, no. 36, Dec. 1855, pp. 633–644. EBSCOhost, proxy.library.nyu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=h9k&AN=51987846&site=ehost-live.
Also published in the December, 1855 issue was an article titled "About Niggers" About Niggers.” Putnam’s Monthly, vol. 6, no. 36, Dec. 1855, pp. 608–612. EBSCOhost, proxy.library.nyu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=h9k&AN=51987882&site=ehost-live. Which I will read as soon as I finish my annotations for this week to understand more about the context of these being published.
Such were the American’s thoughts. They were tranquilizing. There was a difference between the idea of Don Benito’s darkly pre-ordaining Captain Delano’s fate, and Captain Delano’s lightly arranging Don Benito’s. Nevertheless, it was not without something of relief that the good seaman presently perceived his whale-boat in the distance. Its absence had been prolonged by unexpected detention at the sealer’s side, as well as its returning trip lengthened by the continual recession of the goal.
I'm interested to know about how Melville chose to serialize the story of Benito Cereno and decided to end the first part with this. Did word counts have an impact on how much could be published in one issue? As a reader at the time, this paragraph would leave me wanting more.
This ends the first part of Benito Cereno released in Putnam's Monthly: “Benito Cereno.” Putnam’s Monthly, vol. 6, no. 34, Oct. 1855, pp. 353–367. EBSCOhost, proxy.library.nyu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=h9k&AN=51987975&site=ehost-live.
First of two references to Newfoundland dog. This breed seems to have been seen on European ships from the 17th century onward. One sources I consulted stated that these dogs are very good swimmers and had saved men from drowning.
The Credo Reference database provides the following description: "Newfoundland, breed of dog from The Columbia Encyclopedia breed of massive, powerful working dog developed in Newfoundland, probably in the 17th cent., and later perfected in England. It stands from 25 to 28 in. (63.5–71.1 cm) high at the shoulder and weighs from 110 to 150 lb (49.9–68.1 kg). Its dense, flat-lying coat is coarse and rather oily and is usually a dull jet black in color. The Landseer type of Newfoundland is one in which the color is other than solid black, the most frequent being black with white markings. The precise origin of the Newfoundland is obscure, but the most convincing evidence points to the crossbreeding of arctic and other dogs native to Newfoundland with the ship dogs of European fishermen. Specimens of the resulting breed, similar to the modern variety but smaller, were then brought to England, where their size and appearance were refined. The Newfoundland is an excellent water dog and has been used to rescue drowning people. It also has been a popular draft animal, particularly on its native island. Today it is raised for show competition and as a family companion, being especially gentle with children. See dog."
"Newfoundland, breed of dog." The Columbia Encyclopedia, Paul Lagasse, and Columbia University, Columbia University Press, 8th edition, 2018. Credo Reference, http://proxy.library.nyu.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/columency/newfoundland_breed_of_dog/0?institutionId=577. Accessed 10 Oct. 2018.
"A Newfoundland dog on a seashore." Bridgeman Images: Christies Collection, edited by Bridgeman Images, 1st edition, 2014. Credo Reference, http://proxy.library.nyu.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/bridgemanchris/a_newfoundland_dog_on_a_seashore/0?institutionId=577. Accessed 10 Oct. 2018.
Lascars or Manilla men, the impression varies in a peculiar way from that produced by first entering a strange house with strange inmates in a strange land
Exotic description, yet known to a sealer like Captain Delano. I had to look up "Lascars" (sailors from the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, or the Arab World -- according to Wikipedia, but the Princeton Companion to Atlantic History refers to them as "locally recruited guards, soldiers, and sailors in the service of the trading companies operating there" which "there" is referring to India and points East) and I'm assuming Manilla men refers to those from Manila, but I'm not entirely sure due to the spelling discrepancy.
white-washed monastery after a thunder-storm, seen perched upon some dun cliff among the Pyrenees
The ship is referred to like a sacred vessel and I can envision the sight as Delano makes the journey toward Benito Cerano's ship.
Peering over the bulwarks were what really seemed, in the hazy distance, throngs of dark cowls; while, fitfully revealed through the open port-holes, other dark moving figures were dimly descried, as of Black Friars pacing the cloisters.
Juxtaposition of visual descriptions is striking.
The reference to the Ashantee (now called the Ashanti) here and throughout the story is noteworthy. The source material for Benito Cereno, Chapter 18 of Amasa Delano's Narrative of Voyages and Travels, in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, notes only that the slaves on the boat were from Ghana, never specifying any distinct groups of people therein.
The Ashanti were an ethnic group in what is now southern Ghana who gained power through conquest and who themselves relied on enslaved labor (often of those they conquered). Scholars argue about the degree to which their practices of enslavement were similar to or influenced by that of the Europeans, though most agree that Ashanti slaves were allowed freedoms such as marriage and paths toward emancipation.
Identifying the hatchet polishers aboard the Saint Dominick as Ashanti may, in one fell swoop, indicate their ability to fight back as well as their profound recognition of what it is to be enslaved.
For more, see "Britain and the Suppression of Slavery in the Gold Coast, Ashanti, and Northern Territories" in The End of Slavery in Africa (https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=G3VSwvEG4QcC&oi=fnd&pg=PR4&dq=ashanti+slavery&ots=EISRfyD_cS&sig=634EUNacTmb-ieHSV5R89VnlNOQ#v=onepage&q=ashanti%20slavery&f=false)
spectacle of fidelity
Upon revisiting the text, it seems that there are clues that Delano should or somewhere inside himself did pick up on what was going on. Or perhaps the idea of a liberated slave ship was too ludicrous to take seriously. Delia Steverson shines the lens of the Haitian revolution on the novella,
Immediately recognizing the ship as a slave vessel, Delano reads the unfettered slaves as simply having a trusting master who allows them relative free range on the ship. Delano meets the captain of the San Dominick, Don Benito Cereno, who is in constant companionship with a slave named Babo. Captain Delano cannot make sense of the many strange occurrences aboard the ship, including why the slaves seem to have so much freedom, why Benito Cereno seems to possess the “involuntary victim of mental disorder,” and why Benito Cereno’s crew was so small (Melville 44). It is not until he is attacked by the mutineers that Delano realizes Benito Cereno was not a gracious slave master, but rather a helpless hostage being held captive aboard his own ship.
It's like a turn on The Emperor Has No Clothes. It should be completely obvious that Babo has all the clothes, and yet white colonial ignorance cannot imagine or see the possibility.
Steverson, Delia. “‘Everything Gray’: Polygenism and Racial Perception in Herman Melville’s ‘Benito Cereno.’” The Journal of American Culture; Malden, vol. 40, no. 2, June 2017, pp. 169–77.
lethargic, somnambulistic character
This description got me curious about Melville's relationship to gothic literature, so I did a search in my (other) library's federated search and found that < melville benito cereno gothic > yielded 583 results.
Citing Sara Mills, Justin D. Edwards draws attention to the us vs. them narrative in Benito Cereno.
"For Melville, I suggest, the coupling of the two forms was possible because they were both filtered through a racialized lens. For instance, the structures of difference that are central to nineteenthcentury travel narratives— the narrative necessity of providing a gap between 'us' and 'them'— can also be found at the heart of Benito Cereno (Sara Mills 23)." Edwards, Justin D.. Gothic Passages : Racial Ambiguity and the American Gothic, University of Iowa Press, 2005. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/columbia/detail.action?docID=837041. Created from columbia on 2018-10-06 15:39:04.
He goes on to discuss violence, ignorance, and revolt in the power dynamic between Babo and Delano. That's not strictly gothic, but the elements are not far removed.
The juicy phrase "splenetic disrelish" also appears in
Family Lectures: Or, a Copious Collection of Sermons on Faith and Practice, Etc. F. C. and J. Rivington, 1815.
“NOTHWITHSTANDING Shoring, FLUMMOX by Emily Abendroth.” Issuu, https://issuu.com/dawnpendergast/docs/abendroth-issuu. Accessed 6 Oct. 2018.
Astrophysics Research Creatine Express Loading Product Results Reviews. http://votacymu.awardspace.com/astrophysics-research.html. Accessed 6 Oct. 2018.
Mazibuko: W(h)Ither the Truth? | Thought Leader. https://thoughtleader.co.za/tracyhumby/2014/05/19/mazibuko-whither-the-truth/. Accessed 6 Oct. 2018.
By his side stood a black of small stature, in whose rude face, as occasionally, like a shepherd’s dog, he mutely turned it up into the Spaniard’s, sorrow and affection were equally blended.
Delano's reading of the "small black" man's "equal" "sorrow and affection" is suspect as Delano himself in the next paragraph blunders over with sympathy and the desire to help.
Why this redundancy? What would a benign evil look like? From the Oxford Engligh Dictionary, as far back as 1350, [malign] (http://www.oed.com.ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/view/Entry/112922?rskey=3OVGlB&result=1#eid) means "Of a thing: evil in nature and effects; baleful, gravely injurious. Of sin: †heinous (obsolete)."
Sorry to use a Columbia proxy, rather than CUNY. I don't know which is my network username/pw. :(
I was curious about Melville's spelling of Chili (vs. Chile), so I endeavored to find out if that was a 19th century spelling. Finding articles about the country vs. the pepper proved difficult, until I remembered my Boolean logic. < (chile AND chili) NOT pepper*) >. That didn't help much either, at least not in Oxford Reference. The OED was a fail, too. I tried to trick Google into Booleaning for me: < (chile | chili) -pepper >, but it wasn't having it, so I ended up back where I started: Wikipedia, where the first subheading is Etymology. I find their description plausible and reliably cited:
There are various theories about the origin of the word Chile. According to 17th-century Spanish chronicler Diego de Rosales, the Incas called the valley of the Aconcagua "Chili" by corruption of the name of a Picunche tribal chief ("cacique") called Tili, who ruled the area at the time of the Incan conquest in the 15th century. Another theory points to the similarity of the valley of the Aconcagua with that of the Casma Valley in Peru, where there was a town and valley named Chili.
15 "Chile.com.La Incógnita Sobre el Origen de la Palabra Chile". Chile.com. 15 June 2000. Archived from the original on 15 April 2009. Retrieved 17 December 2009 16 Encyclopædia Britannica. "Picunche (people) – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Britannica.com. Retrieved 17 December 2009. 17 Encina, Francisco A., and Leopoldo Castedo (1961). Resumen de la Historia de Chile. 4th ed. Santiago. I. Zig-Zag. p. 44
Today's version of the Wikipedia entry https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chile&oldid=862682987
Captain Delano’s nature was not only benign, but familiarly and humorously so. At home, he had often taken rare satisfaction in sitting in his door, watching some free man of color at his work or play. If on a voyage he chanced to have a black sailor, invariably he was on chatty and half-gamesome terms with him. In fact, like most men of a good, blithe heart, Captain Delano took to negroes, not philanthropically, but genially, just as other men to Newfoundland dogs.
Delano's "singular good nature" is not exempt from the dehumanizing aspects of American racism endemic of the setting of the work (or, indeed, of the time of its composition). Alongside his ease with assisting Benito's ship (and thus the slave trade that it facilitates), Delano's perception of African peoples stereotypes them as 'animalistic' and simple. That is, he participates in the 18th-19th century of perception that contributes to the perception of Africans and those of African descent as subhuman.
Past all speech
Double-entendre playing upon the mixture of metaphorical and literal interpretation. The literal "hard gales" that Delano understands are metaphorically beyond speech in his interpretation of Cereno. But the metaphorical "gales" that Cereno has experienced are literally "Past all speech" for him due to the risk a truthful account poses on his life.
It is curious to note that Cereno must frequently speak with irony due to his powerless state and inability to honestly converse with Delano. Many of his statements deploy a conscious attempt to possess dual interpretations. Yet, as the novella progresses and Delano remains oblivious, it becomes questionable whom the alternative interpretations are directed towards. Does his lack of power and forced state of dishonesty provoke a desire to convey some form of truth, regardless of the recipient?
Gordian knots for the temple of Ammon
Reference to the legend of the Gordian Knot: an unsolvable knot that could never be untied. Upon being presented the knot, Alexander the Great allegedly drew his sword and cut the knot to pieces, effectively 'undong' the knot.
Undo it, cut it
The legend of the Gordian Knot can typically be moralized into the following truism: a difficult problem is most commonly solved through methods outside of convention. An offhand interpretation would suggest that Delano must examine his circumstances through a lens different than he is accustomed to.
However, to 'cut' the knot would ultimately destroy it. The statement equates the act of destruction with the act of "undo[ing]." What is intended by unraveling a knot? Does one simply wish to remove it or do they seek to preserve the rope as well?
For the sailor and Delano, we know it is in their best interest to merely destroy the knot (consider the ending). But, taking the knot as allusive to "Benito Cereno" itself, the answer is less conclusive. Does the reader benefit more from simply "cut[ing]" the novel and removing its knot? Or do they seek to merely 'unravel' it and preserve the story?
- Mar 2016
“Canton.” “And there, Señor, you exchanged your sealskins for teas and silks, I think you said?” “Yes, Silks, mostly.” “And the balance you took in specie, perhaps?”
Trade system with China very popular at this time, 17th century, as spices, silk and other goods were very precious to Westerners. Delano is a prominent figure in trade systems with China(Hughes, 3) and noticed a lot of cultural differences, foot binding for example but also fails to notice human conditions, which Melville linked to slave revolt.
The Spaniard’s manner, too, conveyed a sort of sour and gloomy disdain, which he seemed at no pains to disguise. But this the American in charity ascribed to the harassing effects of sickness, since, in former instances, he had noted that there are peculiar natures on whom prolonged physical suffering seems to cancel every social instinct of kindness; as if, forced to black bread themselves, they deemed it but equity that each person coming nigh them should, indirectly, by some slight or affront, be made to partake of their fare.
Diseases were poorly understood. They still held the notion that it has to do something with atmosphere or spirits (four temperaments). The observations are not wrong but such theories are. This is interesting as observations lead to misunderstood conclusions. Seeing as how Delano can observe behavior of the sick but not of what would be coming. Melville adds on to this temperament sentiment: "using Delano's trusting disposition and generosity. There is a lot of disposition and feelings towards slavery in general. Philanthropic abolition to ardent favored practice of it.
Upon gaining a less remote view, the ship, when made signally visible on the verge of the leaden-hued swells, with the shreds of fog here and there raggedly furring her, appeared like a white-washed monastery after a thunder-storm, seen perched upon some dun cliff among the Pyrenees.
It appears that there were many storms, namely hurricanes, during this time that Melville simplified. Storms were problematic since sailors and explorers had little technology to forecast weathers and sail safely. Melville used this to explore the theme of seeing and unseeing as you cannot forecast ahead what might happen. Fog and storms also limit distance of vision and no instrument, telescope or binoculars can help. The is mention of Saint Dominick the ship that sailed during Haitian revolution. So the writer explores that the ship is a reference to either events during those times. All in all, this would be reference and connection to chaos, hazards and displacement. Gales and Black violence displace each other but Melville makes it so that they happen simultaneously. It is said that "The ship was driven with ill intent," which most people would agree to slavery.
But subsequent depositions of the surviving sailors, bearing out the revelations of their captain in several of the strangest particulars, gave credence to the rest. So that the tribunal, in its final decision, rested its capital sentences upon statements which, had they lacked confirmation, it would have deemed it but duty to reject.
Douglas Coulson gives a dizzying analysis of the potential fallibility of these testimonies here in the Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities.
Such were the American’s thoughts. They were tranquilizing. There was a difference between the idea of Don Benito’s darkly pre-ordaining Captain Delano’s fate, and Captain Delano’s lightly arranging Don Benito’s.
As has been mentioned before, I wonder how much Melville's use of the light/dark dichotomy is rooted in racial prejudice, and how much is just a metaphor of seeing and "illumination" (not that we can ever fully divorce language from life as such through which it is upkept).
The slave there carries the padlock, but master here carries the key.”
Aside from the syntactical way that this sentence arranges the slave and the master-- the former gets the independent clause, from which follows the fact about the latter-- it is interesting to note Melville's play with these two symbolic items, the padlock (there) and the key (here).
".. suspended by a slender silken cord, from Don Benito’s neck, hung a key. At once, from the servant’s muttered syllables, divining the key’s purpose, he smiled, and said:–“So, Don Benito–padlock and key–significant symbols, truly.”
The binding character of the two items is given a magical dimension and affirmed through Captain Delano's satisfied comment. But I want to note that while this serves very effective as literary language, this instance in which physical binding is brought to the foreground of the narration existed within the matrix of an economy, in which a whole fleet of financial practices operated in conjunction. Not to be forgotten is the complicity of insurance underwriting, and so ownership here wouldn't depend so much on our padlock and key, but on a document stowed away in a filing cabinet somewhere.
In 2000, California State Legislature took up the Insurance question and passed SB 2199.
"The Legislature found and declared that: (a) Insurance policies from the slavery era have been discovered in the archives of several insurance companies, documenting insurance coverage for slaveholders for damage to or death of their slaves, issued by a predecessor insurance firm. These documents provide the first evidence of ill-gotten profits from slavery, which profits in part capitalized insurers whose successors remain in existence today.
(b) Legislation has been introduced in Congress for the past 10 years demanding an inquiry into slavery and its continuing legacies.
(c) The Insurance Commissioner and the Department of Insurance are entitled to seek information from the files of insurers licensed and doing business in this state, including licensed California subsidiaries of international insurance corporations, regarding insurance policies issued to slaveholders by predecessor corporations. The people of California are entitled to significant historical information of this nature."
Though we cannot know for certain what the case was for Alexandro Arando, it is interesting that his companion is then used to perform the theater of property relationships.
However, Melville's use of the Deposition as a factual account, working to create distance from the narrator's testimony, uses the Deposition to strike a counterbalance. The findings of SB 2199, another instance of law working to bring something to light, reported that,
"…There is a tradition in the Corporation, though no written evidence of it has come to light, [ftnt. 1 - many of the records of the period have unfortunately been destroyed] that in the middle of the eighteenth century a cargo of slaves (each of whom was branded on the thigh) was insured, and heavy weather being encountered on the voyage, some of the Negroes were jettisoned, and in the consequence a claim for General Average was presented by the owners."
"An Act of 1799", the same year that the encounter on the San Dominick occurs, "put an end to such inhuman practices, for it provided that: 'No loss of damage shall hereafter be recoverable on Account of the Mortality of Slaves by natural Death, or ill-treatment, or against Loss by throwing overboard of Slaves on any Account whatsoever, for restraints and detainments of princes, and people of Africa, caused through any Aggression for the Purpose of procuring Slaves'.
forced to black bread themselves, they deemed it but equity that each person coming nigh them should, indirectly, by some slight or affront, be made to partake of their fare.
Confused here. Is "black" a verb?-- he's forced to black bread i.e. burn it, and thus wants to share his suffering with all others? Or is it literally just black bread? In which case, is black bread really so awful? I've had plenty in my life and it's quite alright.
The racial dimension of "humane satisfaction" makes me deeply uncomfortable, understandably.
See Ezekiel 37 reference of revival of dry bones
Captain Delano witnessed the steady good conduct of Babo.
Benito seems to be very fond and grateful of Babo. Captain Delano notices Babo and is jealous that Benito has a friend so faithful to him.
satyr in a mask, holding his foot on the prostrate neck of a writhing figure, likewise masked.
This imagery is nothing short of gnarly. What is the relationship between the two actors, and why is one authorizing violence against the other? And why are the two characters here making wearing masks?
Robles, who knew how to swim, kept the longest above water, making acts of contrition, and, in the last words he uttered, charged this deponent to cause mass to be said for his soul to our Lady of Succor:
This part has to be absolutely hysterical. It gives accounts of drowning sailors that couldn't be proven and gives the idea that this man is doing this holy act as he's dying. But the point is serious - it is placed to make the story even more devastating -- that the men who died and we're killed by the mutineers were devoutly religious men and it gives the story that much more credibility to it's audience.
and uncomfortable to look at as inquisitors' racks, with a large, misshapen arm-chair
The importance of the inquisitors rack here is the fact that the master's tools are being used against the master. The rack was a torture device used during the inquisition that hung people and dropped them (the Spanish Inquisition version)
The old man looked like an Egyptian priest, making Gordian knots for the temple of Ammon.
"Turn him to any cause of policy,
The Gordian Knot of it he will unloose,
Familiar as his garter" (Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 1 Scene 1. 45–47)
The gordian knot is a reference to an unsolvable problem; an enigma. The fact that it's being made for the temple of Ammon leads us to believe that he is just purely there playing his role in the farce. The knots have no meaning just like the gordian knots have no meaning when brought before the temple of a god. That is his job and even though it may seem moot and meaningless, his act of doing and undoing these knots allows his part to be indefinite.
So, Don Benito—padlock and key—significant symbols, truly.
This use of metonymy is great because it properly defines Benito. In one sense, the padlock represents his repressed state: he's captive in a cage and can't speak up about it or it will cost him his life. On the other hand, he holds the key to exposing the entire farce. Power from the "powerless"
Charles V., just previous to the anchoritish retirement of that monarch from the throne.
This is referencing the fact that Charles V actually stepped down due to abdications. Comparing Benito Cereno to this further shows the confusion of Delano because of how reserved of a captain he appears to be. It's also a good example because of it being geographically relevant with Charles V being related to Spain.
Oxymoron - a distinguished and nervous captain, compared to an anxious monk.
fitfully revealed through the open port-holes, other dark moving figures were dimly descried, as of Black Friars pacing the cloisters.
What's interesting about the usage of "Black Friars" is not just for the literal, racial sense, but also because of the deeper meaning that "Black Friars" has. The Black Friars referred to The Order of Preachers (an order founded by Saint Dominic de Guzman) and they received that name because they wear a black cloak over their white habits. One of their mottos, was Veritas or "truth." The significance of this is the fact that the mutineers are out in the open, playing this "white" role that normally perplexes the common captain at the time, but aren't afraid to show their true colors and not afraid to be black and hold power.
Of relation to sleepwalking. Almost a foreshadowing of the action that is to come where everything isn't as it seems -- like a dream
kith and kin
Literally, "friends and family"
This the negroes have since said; * * * that one of the ship-boys feeling, from Captain [pg 262] Amasa Delano's presence, some hopes of release, and not having enough prudence, dropped some chance-word respecting his expectations, which being overheard and understood by a slave-boy with whom he was eating at the time, the latter struck him on the head with a knife, inflicting a bad wound, but of which the boy is now healing; that likewise, not long before the ship was brought to anchor, one of the seamen, steering at the time, endangered himself by letting the blacks remark some expression in his countenance
Seems that Melville is either critiquing white's attitudes of slaves and slavery or really good at perpetuating racist caricatures
Small ropes or lines that traverse the masts of a ship and work as a ladder to clime up.
A solid wall enclosing the perimeter of a ship's deck for the protection of persons or cargo.
A stout pole, such as those used for masts.
Surtout-- a hood with a mantle worn by a woman
"Indian," here, is used to describe the natives of Peru, not the people of India.
a Spanish robe worn by women that covers all but the face.
Captain Delano took to negroes, not philanthropically, but genially, just as other men to Newfoundland dogs
these are extreme racist attitudes. I'm curious if Melville purposefully included these as a form of criticism of racist stereotypes or if he is mirroring racist attitudes from ignorance as a white male during his time.
The whites, too, by nature, were the shrewder race. A man with some evil design, would he not be likely to speak well of that stupidity which was blind to his depravity, and malign that intelligence from which it might not be hidden? Not unlikely, perhaps. But if the whites had dark secrets concerning Don Benito, could then Don Benito be any way in complicity with the blacks? But they were too stupid
totally confusing reasoning of thought here. Delano's comparisons of race are pretty paradoxical. He is sort of a racist -- but doesn't mind blacks, but still uses some racially-charged in the vernacular
black met his voiceless [pg 270] end
While reading this part, this took me back to my facebook page, where I saw a video of three black children and two white children. The two white children were being bullied by the black children and the person recording was related to the black children. It was very sad on how they were hitting and telling them bad things black people were once being told. How is it that now some people just don't care and teach their children to behave how once they were or might have being treated? Why not raised them different and help them become a better person?
"You generalize, Don Benito; and mournfully enough. But the past is passed; why moralize upon it? Forget it. See, yon bright sun has forgotten it all, and the blue sea, and the blue sky; these have turned over new leaves.
Delano appears to connect things through the trope of nature...here with Benito's attitude
There is some one above.
Delano alludes to the idea of a god
But ere long Captain Delano bethought him that, indulgent as he was at the first, in judging the Spaniard, he might not, after all, have exercised charity enough. At bottom it was Don Benito's reserve which displeased him; but the same reserve was shown towards all but his faithful personal attendant. Even the formal reports which, according to sea-usage, were, at stated times, made to him by some petty underling, either a white, mulatto or black, he hardly had patience enough to listen to, without betraying contemptuous aversion. His manner upon such occasions was, in its [pg 126] degree, not unlike that which might be supposed to have been his imperial countryman's, Charles V., just previous to the anchoritish retirement of that monarch from the throne.
This paragraph have me thinking on how can you exercise charity? How is it that a human being is taught on whether to act against other individuals that are not their same race or color? Yet, this is still going on now; although it has improve but not completely.
whites it was not without humane satisfaction
Story on Black and White?
The sky seemed a gray surtout
Interesting comparison. I have never compared the sky with clothes but I kind of like the comparison. (Surtout-- meaning a hood with a mantle worn by a woman, as sais by nickj )
There he had touched for water
He had access to water?
Benito Cereno, borne on the bier, did, indeed, follow his leader.
Melville portrays the bond between two males that is then struck by tragedy, specifically, the death of one or the other, in not only Benito Cereno, but also "Bartleby" and Moby Dick. While that bond can take the form of friendship, it is strangely, often one of dependence. Here, Benito Cereno follows Babo even into death, when previously, he was so eager to be rid of him. While we briefly discussed the homoerotic subtext in "Bartleby," I wonder if that same relationship can also be seen here. This is especially intriguing when one learns about the close friendship that Melville shared with Nathaniel Hawthorne as well.
met, unabashed, the gaze of the whites;
While Delano is undoubtedly our narrator, it does make me wonder, especially in lines like this, if we are also getting a glimpse of Melville's own perspective. While this line could undoubtedly be read a variety of ways, it sounds, to me, like admiration.
Only at the end did my suspicions get the better of me, and you know how wide of the mark they then proved.
The appearance of power, the illusion of it, therefore does not at all speak to its actual presence. The reader and Delano both are disillusioned by the way things appear to be, for there has been an unspoken acceptance of the way things are (be it in the context of the story or in that time period and at that particular time) and therefore are temporarily unable to see past them, at least until all is unveiled. Is Melville, then, speaking to the institution of slavery as a whole? Perhaps Melville is condemning the notion that the superiority of one person over another, based solely upon race, as a mere fabricated illusion.
There's naked nature, now; pure tenderness and love, thought Captain Delano, well pleased. This incident prompted him to remark the other negresses more particularly than before. He was gratified with their manners: like most uncivilized women, they seemed at once tender of heart and tough of constitution; equally ready to die for their infants or fight for them. Unsophisticated as leopardesses; loving as doves. Ah! thought Captain Delano, these, perhaps, are some of the very women whom Ledyard saw in Africa, and gave such a noble account of.
Some say that love is the difference between animal and man. In this passage, Delano's observation of the woman interacting with her child initially pulls him away from his animal comparison from before. Delano even refers to her as a woman, albeit an "uncivilized" one. However, she is instantly forced back into the "other," into the position of animal, as he once again compares her love for her child to that of a leopardess or a dove.
His attention had been drawn to a slumbering negress, partly disclosed through the lacework of some rigging, lying, with youthful limbs carelessly disposed, under the lee of the bulwarks, like a doe in the shade of a woodland rock. Sprawling at her lapped breasts, was her wide-awake fawn, stark naked, its black little body half lifted from the deck, crosswise with its dam's; its hands, like two paws, clambering upon her; its mouth and nose ineffectually rooting to get at the mark; and meantime giving a vexatious half-grunt, blending with the composed snore of the negress.
While there has been a continued "other-ing" that occurs throughout Benito Cereno, with the use of color, specifically, in order to designate and refer to the Africans, this passage seems to surpass that entirely. Delano compares the woman and her child to a doe and fawn, and this description as a whole seems to render them entirely animal. Delano peers at these two people like animals in their natural habitat (caged?), as seen by his focus on their bodies, with the woman's breasts, and her child's hands - "paws" - and "its" features.
As master and man stood before him, the black upholding the white, Captain Delano could not but bethink him of the beauty of that relationship which could present such a spectacle of fidelity on the one hand and confidence on the other.
This reminds me of Nathaniel Parker Willis's "Night Funeral of a Slave," wherein a slave owner mourns the death of his slave. In the piece, there is a deliberate emphasis by the owner that his slave is also his friend, his most trusted companion. However, that manipulation can be seen blatantly throughout the text as ownership and possession are hidden in the guise of friendship, through the use of extremely racial rhetoric, specifically, the emphasis on color. This type of manipulation, or perception perhaps, can be seen often in Benito Cereno, particularly when Delano perceives Babo.
slave I cannot call him
This distempered spirit was lodged, as before hinted, in as distempered a frame. He was rather tall, but seemed never to have been robust, and now with nervous suffering was almost worn to a skeleton.
The state of the spirit seems entirely connected to the state of the body, the "frame." What then is Melville trying to say about race? This play on the "goodness" of black and white is undoubtedly related here as well, and perhaps it is this ambiguity that not only speaks to the similarity of spirits (in dissimilar frames) but also the shades of grey in the human condition as well.
Ezekiel's Valley of Dry Bones
Engraving of "The Vision of The Valley of The Dry Bones" by Gustave Doré.
I was uncertain what this was referencing and had to look it up. Just as the ship seems to come to life before Delano's eyes, so do the bones of humans before Ezekiel. In a vision, the prophet Ezekiel is given a prophecy from God and through him, the "dry bones" of the dead are resurrected and brought to Israel.
white-washed monastery after a thunder-storm, seen perched upon some dun cliff among the Pyrenees. But it was no purely fanciful resemblance which now, for a moment, almost led Captain Delano to think that nothing less than a ship-load of monks was before him. Peering over the bulwarks were what really seemed, in the hazy distance, throngs of dark cowls; while, fitfully revealed through the open port-holes, other dark moving figures were dimly descried, as of Black Friars pacing the cloisters.
This play on light and dark is extremely fascinating, particularly if one considers Melville's use of the color white in Moby Dick. While the color white is often used to symbolize purity and goodness, Melville inverts this idea entirely. Ishmael ponders over the what Moby Dick's whiteness means - is it evil? And if so, is black then, good? Or is the color white the combination of both evil and good, or perhaps the absence of both altogether? Melville may be playing with these ideas again in Benito Cereno, as he likens the whiteness of the ship to religious motifs of the monastery and the monks, and yet he also fills that very same ship with shadows.
At last, puzzled to comprehend the meaning of such a knot, Captain Delano addressed the knotter:— "What are you knotting there, my man?" "The knot," was the brief reply, without looking up. [pg 182] "So it seems; but what is it for?" "For some one else to undo," muttered back the old man, plying his fingers harder than ever, the knot being now nearly completed. While Captain Delano stood watching him, suddenly the old man threw the knot towards him, saying in broken English—the first heard in the ship—something to this effect: "Undo it, cut it, quick." It was said lowly, but with such condensation of rapidity, that the long, slow words in Spanish, which had preceded and followed, almost operated as covers to the brief English between.
The knot here given to Delano is suggested to be symbolic of a Gordian Knot (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordian_Knot), an impossible, mythical puzzle so intricate, complex and incomprehensible that it nearly thwarts Alexander the Great. The metaphor proposed by this allusion not only harkens to the complexity of the plot and the narrative, but additionally cutting off archaic or historic ties, beginning new eras and ending the old.
In the year 1799, Captain Amasa Delano, of Duxbury, in Massachusetts, commanding a large sealer and general trader, lay at anchor with a valuable cargo, in the harbor of St. Maria—a small, desert, uninhabited island toward the southern extremity of the long coast of Chili. There he had touched for water. On the second day, not long after dawn, while lying in his berth, his mate came below, informing him that a strange sail was coming into the bay. Ships were then not so plenty in those waters as now. He rose, dressed, and went on deck. The morning was one peculiar to that coast. Everything was mute and calm; everything gray. The sea, though undulated into long roods of swells, seemed fixed, and was sleeked at the surface like waved lead that has cooled and set in the smelter's mould. The sky seemed a gray surtout. Flights of troubled gray fowl, [pg 110] kith and kin with flights of troubled gray vapors among which they were mixed, skimmed low and fitfully over the waters, as swallows over meadows before storms. Shadows present, foreshadowing deeper shadows to come.
Much like its counterpart Bartleby, The Scrivener, the protagonist is not the "focal character" (in this case, Delano), but instead the titular Benito Cereno. There are many comparisons to be drawn between the two stories on social commentary, passivity, ignorance and business, however one striking difference is in the opening tone and mystery of Benito Cereno. There is no inclination of the outcome of the story, of setting up characters or long drawn out backgrounds and the tone is entirely unclear. This perpetuates the air of conflict and the enigma surrounding Melville's opinion and outlook on slavery and racism, suggesting the idea of its corruption 100 years before the civil rights movement.
"Ah, my dear friend," Don Benito once said, "at those very times when you thought me so morose and ungrateful, nay, when, as you now admit, you half thought me plotting your murder, at those very times my heart was frozen; I could not look at you, thinking of what, both on board this ship and your own, hung, from other hands, over my kind benefactor. And as God lives, Don Amasa, I know not whether desire for my own safety alone could have nerved me to that leap into your boat, had it not been for the thought that, did you, unenlightened, return to your ship, you, my best friend, with all who might be with you, stolen upon, that night, in your hammocks, would never in this world have wakened again. Do but think how you walked this deck, how you sat in this cabin, every inch of ground mined into honey-combs under you. Had I dropped the least hint, made the least [pg 266] advance towards an understanding between us, death, explosive death—yours as mine—would have ended the scene."
Whilst I cannot find the direct quote due to short-notice and poverty, Warner Berthoff has likened the multiplicity of layers and understanding in Benito Cereno to a Riddle - one must hear/read it twice, having learned or determined the answer, to spot the clues and suggestions that lead them there.
As for the black—whose brain, not body, had schemed and led the revolt, with the plot—his slight frame, inadequate to that which it held, had at once yielded to the superior muscular strength of his captor, in the boat. Seeing all was over, he uttered no sound, and could not be forced to. His aspect seemed to say, since I cannot do deeds, I will not speak words.
This finalises in the eyes of Cereno, Delano and indeed the reader the power and prowess of Babo over his white counterparts. His brain and abilities clearly supersede his physical 'limitations' (for lack of a better word) and his ethnicity. His final choice, his refusal to speak, finally shows his possession over his own body, contrary to his prior position as a slave. Whether or not this is Melville's attempt to justify and empower somewhat positively the rebellion and identity of the slaves or a technique to emphasise how formidable Babo is as a villain, is unclear, and remains to be seen, even today.
Benito Cereno, borne on the bier, did, indeed, follow his leader.
Despite the connotations and easy assumption that this ending means that Cereno followed Aranda into death, with him being his ranking leader, the heavy weighting on the control Babo has over Cereno in addition to the proximity of their deaths suggests a duality in Cereno's existence - he is, by all intensive purposes, a servant to two masters.