Herman Melville's dramatic novella Benito Cereno depicts a revolt aboard a Spanish slavery vessel.
Set in 1799, we witness an American trading vessel rushing to aid a Spanish slave ship that has fallen into distress.
The American captain Delano notes a few oddities about the ship's passengers, particularly the liberties taken by the slaves aboard ship. They are roaming the ship freely.
He looks around for a captain, or any white man in authority, and soon comes upon the Spanish Captain, Benito Cereno.
Benito appears sickly, as his coughing fits continually interrupt his words.
Constantly at Benito’s side is his black servant, Babo.
What Delano is unaware of is the mutiny aboard the ship: the Africans are in charge of the Spaniards, a thought that Delano seems too naïve to comprehend.
The mutineers have disguised their actions so as to stake a claim on Delano’s boat.
Though there is plenty of strange activity on the boat that puts Delano off his guard (slaves sharpening hatchets, a black child’s violence that goes unpunished after he strikes a Spanish boy and draws blood), Delano lets his good nature convince him that everything is orderly enough on the San Dominick.
A tension-filled tale of suspense, the story has become acclaimed for its explorations of race, slavery, and human depravity.
HERMAN MELVILLE (1819–1891) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, poet, sailor, and customs inspector. The author of numerous classic novels, essays, and short stories, he is perhaps best known for Moby Dick, Typee, The Confidence Man, Redburn, Clarel, Bartleby, the Scrivener, and Billy Budd. He is considered a literary colossus, and a central figure in the development of the modern novel.
"An intensely controlled work, formally one of the most nearly perfect things Melville ever did."