Benito Cereno - Reader Response Criticism

Categories: Criticism

When diving into Herman Melville's novella "Benito Cereno," readers are immediately captivated by the mysterious and deceptive narrative that unfolds. The story, shrouded in ambiguity and misdirection, takes us on a journey through the eyes of Captain Delano as he navigates the treacherous waters of the San Dominick. What appears to be a simple tale of a chance encounter between two ships quickly morphs into a complex web of deceit, power struggles, and ultimately, a shocking revelation of an African conspiracy.

From the onset, Melville skillfully crafts a narrative that lures readers into a false sense of security. The use of Delano's perspective as the primary lens through which the story is told serves as a clever device to mislead and deceive. Delano's initial mistrust of Don Benito, the Spanish captain of the San Dominick, sets the stage for the unfolding drama. His observations of the interactions between Benito and his loyal servant, Babo, plant seeds of doubt and suspicion in both Delano's mind and the reader's.

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As the story progresses, subtle hints and clues are scattered throughout the text, waiting to be unraveled upon closer inspection. The seemingly innocent actions of the African slaves onboard the San Dominick take on a sinister undertone when viewed through the lens of hindsight. Babo, portrayed initially as a devoted and loyal servant, reveals himself to be the mastermind behind the elaborate conspiracy that has been brewing beneath the surface.

One of the pivotal moments in the novella is the revelation of Don Benito's true feelings towards Babo.

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Upon a second reading, the imagery of Benito looking down while Babo gazes up at him takes on a new significance, highlighting the power dynamics at play. The act of Babo shaving Benito, which initially seemed like a gesture of loyalty, transforms into a chilling display of control and dominance.

Delano's gradual realization of the unfolding conspiracy mirrors the reader's own journey of discovery. The subtle cues and foreshadowing scattered throughout the text only become clear in retrospect, once the full extent of the African slaves' rebellion is unveiled. The intricate web of deception that Melville weaves keeps readers on the edge of their seats, eagerly piecing together the puzzle as it slowly comes into focus.

Furthermore, the underlying themes of power, control, and the complexities of human nature are brought to the forefront in "Benito Cereno." The novella serves as a poignant commentary on the destructive forces of oppression and the resilience of those who dare to defy it. The character of Babo, in particular, emerges as a symbol of defiance and agency in the face of overwhelming odds.

In conclusion, Herman Melville's "Benito Cereno" stands as a masterful work of deception and intrigue, inviting readers to delve into its depths and uncover the hidden truths that lie beneath the surface. Through the clever use of narrative perspective, symbolism, and foreshadowing, Melville crafts a tale that challenges perceptions and invites reflection on the complexities of power and control. As readers journey through the twists and turns of the San Dominick, they are reminded that not everything is as it seems, and that sometimes, the greatest truths lie hidden in plain sight.


Updated: Feb 15, 2024
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Benito Cereno - Reader Response Criticism. (2016, Sep 15). Retrieved from

Benito Cereno - Reader Response Criticism essay
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