Man has easily been persuaded into possessing a false sense of control. In the case of Herman Melville’s classic tale



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Man has easily been persuaded into possessing a false sense of control. In the case of Herman Melville’s classic tale Benito Cereno, this false power is epitomized by the slave revolt which overthrew both Benito Cereno as well as the perception of Delano’s view of slaves and their place in society. With the author’s use of characterization and imagery, it is clear to see how Delano’s blindness to Babo’s power over Cereno is also shared by Melville’s 1850’s audience of slaveholders and even those who didn’t possess slaves.

Babo’s characterization plays a pivotal role in the fooling of Delano’s perception of the situation. Particularly within the shaving scene, Babo is presented as a loyal and faithful servant to Cereno who according to Babo, almost fits the role perfectly of a slave barber, “There is something in the negro which, in a peculiar way, fits him for avocations about one’s person.” Already, based on Delano’s point of view, the audience is led to believe that Babo is this loyal servant without any vices whatsoever; however, the audience is then presented with Babo’s power and control of the situation, “’You must not shake so master. See, Don Amasa, master always shakes when I shave him. And yet master knows I never yet have drawn blood, though it’s true, if master will shake so, I may some of these times.’” Even with this apparent sense of loyalty, with a razorblade to his throat and Benito’s clear discomfort, it is evident how Babo’s portrayal in this scene paints a vivid picture of his control and Delano’s mistake in believing otherwise.



Melville’s imagery of the shaving scene also plays a key role in describing Babo’s control. Specifically with the visual comparison of the razor, Melville presents a clear representation of its power over Benito in the hands of Babo, “No sword drawn before James the First of England, no assassination in that timid King’s presence could have produced a more terrified aspect than was now presented by Don Benito.” By comparing the razor to the executioner’s sword which correlates to the assassination attempt on James’ life in 1600, Melville lets the audience imagine the power and control of this razor to Benito’s throat as if it were an English broadsword ready to kill. But as Delano views it, he again is tricked into seeing Babo as a loyal slave and Benito as the antagonist, “…I should’ve imagined he meant to spill all my blood, who can’t endure the sight of one little drop of his own? Surely, Amasa Delano, you have been beside yourself today.”

Melville goes to many lengths to let the audience see Delano’s blindness to the situation and recognizing the possibility of its own in 1850’s society. By describing the character of Babo and the imagery he conveys in this pivotal scene, it’s evident how man not only in 1850’s slaveholding society but even in the modern day can easily be blinded into believing we are in control of everything.


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