Benito Cereno and American Characteristic

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19th Century Literature
Prof. Bland
Typical American Character
“Benito Cereno” is a work that exceedingly depicts how ideological self-delusion of an American character is one of the most dangerous capacities of mankind. Captain Delano a Yankee from “Duxbury Massachusetts” exemplifies these two American cultures of concerning nature and confidence. As Americans we have concerned and helped other less fortunate (i.e. the amount we donate to help third world countries), we are also confident and fearless in nature that we can accomplish anything (i.e. American dream). These traditional American characteristics I believe forms the American arrogance that we are stereotyped to have. We maybe helping others we have no business helping. Just like the American culture Delano truly believes he is doing the right thing, by showing concern and having confidence in being able to help the San Dominick slave-ship and he is incapable of seeing the horrifying consequences of his actions both with respect to his “friendly racism” and his fantasy of “superiority”. He spends a day on the San Dominick following a slave mutiny, never quite aware that anything is wrong until the truth all but bites his head off. Delano subscribes to a typical "Northern" view of African slaves: he considers them to be naturally good-natured, submissive servants. He spends much of his time aboard the San Dominick condescendingly admiring Babo's performance. Melville critiques this naiveté arrogance of superiority and friendly racism to which although these characteristic are positive if not careful, can be a barrier that blinds a person from seeing the actual situation. "None wore fetters, because the owner, his friend Aranda, told him that they were all tractable" (BC 224) As Delano first boards Benito's ship, the slaves are still unfettered. "The ship seems unreal; these strange costumes, gestures, and faces, but a shadowy tableau just emerged from the deep, which directly must receive back what it gave" (BC). This "shadowy tableau," on the ship inhabited mostly by unregulated African slaves, roaming around freely is there for Captain Delano to develop his own understanding as to why this ship culture is the way it is. Having the traditional American character of concern, Delano in nature is concerned about the ship and his intention of genuinely helping the troubled captain Benito Cereno becomes a curtain that prevents him from seeing the real intentions of the slaves. Symbols that have previously been formed and encoded by the American culture and upbringing in the back of his mind; Delano's "trustful good nature" makes him accept the image of the faithful slaves in his understanding of the unknown Africans slaves on the ship. With this idea of faithful slaves, confronted with a genuine signs and warning; the frail captain Benito Cereno, the vigilant Babo, chained Atufal, the oakum-pickers and hatchet-polishers, the flaring moments of violence and unease---he is not capable of understanding and arranging them accurately or truthfully. This trustful and concerned nature of Americans is one of the characters Captain Delano represents. That an American upbringing create a perception even today that we, as a country, had a right to go around the world helping other struggling nations who were beset by tyrants or internal fighting with the attendant killing and raping of the populace. This trusting and concerned nature makes us delusional preventing us from seeing the facts that maybe these country America is helping does not want our help. The same goes for captain Delano his trustful nature creates a delusion of “faithful and harmless slaves” that helping this slave ship and its current condition of unfettered slaves is a result of the poor management of Captain Delano’s lesser Hispanic counter Captain Benito Cereno therefore his is obliged to help to get it under control. This concerning nature blinds Captain Delano from seeing the truth. Before even...
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