Benito Cereno - Reader Response Criticism

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Most readers of Benito Cereno will be surprised when the African conspiracy is finally revealed. Although Melville begins the novella with ominous imagery, the text is designed to lead the reader away from the true events of the San Dominick. The point of view of Benito Cereno is the major tool Melville uses to trick the reader. The story is written in the third person, but expresses Delano's thoughts and observations. Most readers will trust Delano's judgement, and his observations of Don Benito and his crew set the reader up to be surprised. Firstly, Delano's mistrust of Don Benito caused me to suspect the Spanish captain of taking part in a conspiracy against Delano. Benito asks him strange questions about The Bachelor's Delight "with a guilty shuffle" (188). When Delano becomes nervous while watching Benito conversing privately with Babo, I was also alarmed. The image that I was most struck by was Benito Cereno standing with his face downcast, as Babo, who is kneeling down, looks upward at his master; Delano noted this contrast, and I interpreted the scene as symbolic of Cereno's guilt. Secondly, I believed Babo to be a devoted and loyal servant. Delano was impressed by Babo's concern for Don Benito, as was I. I never interpreted Babo's constant service as anything but well-intentioned; in fact, all of the slaves on the ship appeared to be good-natured. Delano even reflected on the ability of the African race to mix work with pleasure after observing the "negroes" onboard performing what he thought were the orders of Cereno. He was completely unaware of the slaves' true intentions. I, like most readers of Benito Cereno, was completely unaware of the mutiny of the slaves until Delano realized upon his departure that Don Benito had been terrified all along of Babo; however, upon rereading the text, there are many clues as to what was going on. In this new context, the image of Don Benito looking down while Babo looked up at him takes on an entirely...
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