Benito Cereno: Top Ten Quotes

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  1. [Captain Delano was] a person of a singularly undistrustful good nature, not liable… to indulge in personal alarms any way involving the imputation of malign evil in man. Whether, in view of what humanity is capable, such a trait implies, along with a benevolent heart, more than ordinary quickness and accuracy of intellectual perception, may be left to the wise to determine.

    (pp. 144-145)

    The narrator’s initial characterization of Delano, coupled with his speculation that the good captain may be too quick to attribute the best motives and qualities to his fellow human beings.

  2. Still, Captain Delano was not without the idea that had Benito Cereno been a man of greater energy, misrule would hardly have come to the present pass.

    (p. 150)

    This quotation, describing Delano’s initial interpretation of the situation aboard the San Dominick, also introduces the possibility that Cereno serves—for Delano, if not for the readers—as a symbol of the lack of vitality of the “old world,” a theme common in much early American literature.

  3. If, indeed, there be any wickedness on board this ship, thought Captain Delano, be sure that man there has fouled his hand in it, even as he now fouls it in the pitch.

    (p. 173)

    Delano’s reflections upon seeing a Spanish sailor involved in a menial task. The comments reveal not only the (misguided) importance that Delano places on rank and station, but also reinforces the traditional symbolic association of “blackness” with evil and sin, an association that Melville allows to play on several levels in his tale.

  4. Besides, who ever heard of a white so far a renegade as to apostatize from his very species almost, by leaguing in against it with Negroes?

    (p. 177)

    Delano’s reflections upon wondering if Cereno is plotting with the slaves against him. The words betray Delano’s racial prejudice, and are also ironic because Cereno is, in fact, an “accomplice” with the slave mutineers—albeit not a willing one, and not for the ends that Delano fears.

  5. Yes, this is a strange craft, a strange history, too, and strange folks on board. But—nothing more.

    (p. 180)

    Delano’s misguided estimation of the situation aboard the San Dominick, concisely summarized

  6. 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.

    (p. 187)

    The conclusion of one of the most overtly “racist” passages in the text, which praises “the Negro” race for its supposedly inherent  qualities of subservience; such passages as these in the text have led to charges of racism against Melville’s work, but they may also be taken as insights into Delano’s flawed understanding of the world and various people and races’ places in it.

  7. “The castle and the lion,” exclaimed Captain Delano—“why, Don Benito, this is the flag of Spain you use here. It’s well it’s only I, and not the King, that sees this…”

    (p. 188)

    Delano’s reaction upon realizing that Babo is using the Spanish standard as an apron for Cereno during Cereno’s shave, an image that mocks the power and prestige of the “old world”

  8. That moment, across the long-benighted mind of Captain Delano, a flash of revelation swept, illuminating, in unanticipated clearness, his host’s whole mysterious demeanor, with every enigmatic event of the day, as well as the entire past voyage of the San Dominick. He smote Babo’s hand down, but his own heart smote him harder.

    (p. 204)

    The moment in which Delano finally realizes the truth: that the slaves have taken over the San Dominick, and that Cereno has been their prisoner the entire time

  9. But by this time the cable of the San Dominick had been cut, and the fag end [“the frayed end of a length of cloth or rope,” American Heritage Dictionary], in lashing out, whipped away the canvas shroud about the beak, suddenly revealing, as the bleached hull swung round towards the open ocean, death for the figurehead, in a human skeleton, chalky comment on the chalked words below, Follow Your Leader.

    (pp. 204-205)

    The revelation of what happened to Don Aranda, Cereno’s friend and owner of the slaves: his skeleton was substituted for the figure of Columbus as the San Dominick’s figurehead by the mutineers

  10. [T]he Negro Babo was the plotter from first to last; he ordered every murder, and was the helm and keel of the revolt…

    From Cereno’s deposition, a summary presentation of Babo as the “villain” of the piece, although Cereno cannot admit of any reason why a slave might choose to rebel against his “masters”

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