Friday, October 9, 2009

Misreading Signs to Save His Life

After discussing in class about Benito Cereno, I started to think more about the misread signs of Captain Delano and how misreading a number of situations ultimately saved his life. Most of the reason that Delano keeps misreading these situations is because of his character. This helps him in the end because he tends to brush off or ignore situations that if he would’ve reacted to he may have been killed immediately. One specific scene that I think is extremely important is the scene when Babo is shaving Don Benito.

This scene starts on page 212, but the signs that Delano misses are on page 214. After Babo sets up all of the equipment for shaving he begins to lather up Don Benito. If Babo was really a servant of Don Benito’s and had shaved him numerous times before, most of these actions and reactions wouldn’t have occurred. The first sign that Delano misreads is when Babo is getting ready to begin the shaving, “he then made a gesture as if to being, but midway stood suspended for an instant” (214). In this quote it can be seen that this hesitance of Babo’s is most likely because he is very nervous. This is most likely the first time that he has shaved Don Benito and he doesn’t want Delano to know that he is pretending to be a servant. At this time Babo brings the sharp blade close to Don Benito’s neck and “not unaffected by the close sight of the gleaming steel, Don Benito nervously shuddered.” Don Benito is not comfortable with Babo shaving him, which is somewhat ironic because of how much trust he seems to have in Babo on the deck. These strange behaviors are noticed by Delano however he just brushes them off and begins to question Don Benito about why there isn’t a Spanish flag flying on the ship.

Once Delano begins questioning Don Benito, we see Babo interrupt his master to probably make sure that there isn’t an answer given that could reveal the secret. Babo tells his master that he shouldn’t be shaking. He then goes on to tell Delano that Don Benito always shakes while being shaved even though he has never cut him. Delano proceeds to ask Don Benito about the trip from Cape Horn to Santa Maria and why it took so long to make the trip. He mentioned that even with the lack of wind, that he has made that trip a number of times in only about two weeks. This is when Delano begins to express his doubt in the story he is being told. It is very ironic that while Delano is in the room and Babo has just explained he has never cut Don Benito, that Babo cuts Don Benito’s neck when Delano is talking about his disbelief of the story.

I think that this is possibly the most important time that Delano brushes off this disbelief and tries to trust the story. I think this because not only does Babo have a sharp blade in his hand that he could easily kill Delano and Don Benito with, but there are also in a small secluded room with no one around. Had Delano continued to question Don Benito about this, and was given a wrong answer by Don Benito I think that Babo wouldn’t have hesitated to attack the other men in the room. I think that because of Delano’s character and always looking for the good in people that by misreading, or missing, signs that were given saved his life.


  1. I agree with you, this is a very powerful scene and looking back it helps us see how in control Babo really was. He had a knife to Don Benitos neck and the guy was shaking because he was so scared. I still dont understand how Delano, the captain of a ship could be so ignorant though, Captains need to be so observant and aware of what is going on. But he doesnt have a clue.

  2. I also agree that Delano's obliviousness saves him again and again in this story. But like I said in response to Cody's post, I’m confused as to what Melville is trying to say with this characteristic. Once again, I find it bizarre that the most oblivious person in the story survives. I think this is an important part of the story, and that it’s intentional on Melville’s part, but I still don’t know what it means…..