Essay Sample: Racism in "Benito Cereno"

Published: 2022-11-01
Essay Sample: Racism in "Benito Cereno"
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Racism Slavery American literature
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1159 words
10 min read

Benito Cereno is a fictional story spinning around the sensitive topic of slavery but from a different angle. While it is true of the unspoken dominance the whites have had over the blacks for a lengthened period of time, Benito Cereno paints an entirely distinct perception and leads the readers to ponder on the happenings within the book and their relevance to today's society. White supremacy and control over the black man began decades ago with the aspect of racism being the norm in many parts of the world. The black man has equally to an extent assisted in perpetrating this vice by playing a subservient role and allowing the white man to feel and exert his authority over him. As a result, the former grew confident in his methods assuming that all was well and that the supremacy battle belonged to him; thus assuming complacency.

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The novel, however, seeks to dispel such notions as it shows an organized revolt by the black slaves against their helpless Spaniard master. So brilliant is Babo the slave that not once did Amas Delano suspect foul play when he went aboard the ill-fated ship. In this essay, therefore, the focus will be on thematic concerns which will be used to reflect on cultural, historical and societal differences among the different races in existence today.

The first theme that presents itself is of racism and slavery. It is evident from the attitude that Amas Delano had when he first spotted the black figures aboard the San Dominick. He immediately identified the black men as slaves and once he boarded the ship, he did not pay attention to who the real masters were. His eyes first riveted to Don Benito, a man who he quickly dismissed as being a weakling in handling the black slaves (Cereno, 1515).

The theme of racism and slavery is so strong that Captain Delano does immediately decipher the true picture of what is taking place on the ship. The constant way in which Babo is around them when he is conversing with Captain Don Benito does not quickly strike him as weird and baffling. In addition, the way in which Benito behaves around Babo is completely lost on him. After offering Captain Benito a chance to visit his ship during the night and his vehement refusal does not send suspicion sparks for him (Cereno, 1550). Delano is so caught up in his racial perceptions that he does not perceive what is happening before his eyes.

A second strong theme that is prevalent in the novel is of the white prejudice against the black race. Prejudice is best defined as a preconceived opinion that one has against a particular person or persons. Amas Delano is such one character. As a matter of fact, this theme carries the bulk of what the author was intending to pass across and its impact on the historical, social and cultural differences are definitively addressed. It is as a result of prejudice that Delano perceived the black race as submissive, docile creatures while in actual sense they were not. The uncanny behavior with which Babo served and handled Benito is in itself queer yet to him, it was the norm of things. How the black man should serve his white master. Besides, Delano at some point feels bad for the way Captain Benito handles the black people aboard the ship.

A good example is the supposed punishment meted out on Atufal, who is a colossally, huge fellow who is apparently chained and has to apologize to Benito on past errors to which he has vehemently failed to do so (Cereno, 1549). Taking a critical look at Atufal when presented before Captain Benito, it is not with humility that he is indicating, but rather a rebellious, violent pretense well mastered and perfected. It, therefore, becomes important for one to understand that in the case of Delano, it was not a case of unintelligence. It was rather the shape of his mind, which is culturally trained to perceive the intended socially placed parameters. These are that the black man is so docile and has the aspects of servitude about him, that he cannot once think of revolting and or causing harm to his white masters.

The theme of prejudice and white supremacy is equally witnessed in the shaving scene. For a brief foreboding moment, Delano manages to get a sneak peek of what might actually be the real picture but quickly dismisses it as his mind playing tricks on him (Cereno, 1543). To Delano's eyes, the act of shaving is quite humbling as it further reasserts to his long-held notion of the fact the black race always made good barbers. Besides, when Babo chooses the sharpest razor blade for the cut, he does not suspect anything yet to Benito this was a silent warning that if he attempted anything he would cut off his throat. In addition, the use of the Spanish flag as the shaving cloth does not strike Delano as odd. In his culturally conditioned state of the mind, he dismisses it being the black man's love of gay and bright colors. Furthermore, Cereno's mannerisms and the incessant shaking he had during the entire process do not strike him as odd. Babo's explanation of his master's apparent fear of the blade every time he conducts shaving suffices Delano.

The third theme which is equally prevalent in the novel is of perception and deception. Captain Delano of the whaling ship dubbed the Bachelors spends a lot of his time trying to unsuccessfully figure out the true nature of Captain Benito's character whilst totally over-looking the Africans that were on board. His perception is misconstrued as his under-estimates the busy-looking Africans working on their tools oblivious of what is happening around them. He further describes them as "negroes, not philanthropically, but genially, just as other men to Newfoundland dogs" (Cereno, 1542). His perception of the Africans is so poor up to the extent of admiring the women who lay, busy sharpening their hatchets not aware that the same weapons were used against their master Alexandro Aranda. Quite dangerous were the Africans in such that they had kept his skeletal remains as a way of reminding the remaining Spaniards of the fate that awaited them if they caused mayhem. All this was lost on Delano.

In conclusion, therefore, the novel has tackled the themes of racism, slavery, prejudice, deception, perception and white supremacy as some of the historically, culturally and societal normality that the world has been used to. The book is, however, seeking to change these perceptions as the Africans are not as stupid as the world has been made to believe. They too can stand up and cause a revolt. It is a sort of a wakeup call, for the different cultures, societies and historically-dictated upon policies to undergo some changes.

Works Cited

Gottesman, Ronald, et al. "The Norton anthology of American literature", 9e Vol 1/B" 5. Herman Melville-Benito Cereno, page 1511-1568 (1980).

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