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Free Study Guide-Benito Cereno by Herman Melville-Free Book Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES

SECOND HALF OF NARRATIVE

Summary

Captain Delano considers the behavior of the Spanish sailors; he wonders if they could be trying to warn him of something. He even thinks that possibly Cereno is in on an evil plot with the Africans, which would be unheard of for a white man. As he moves along the deck, Delano notes an old Spanish sailor, surrounded by Africans and making an incredibly intricate knot of rope. When Delano inquires the purpose of the rope, the sailor tosses it at him and says rapidly in English, "Undo it, cut it, quick." Unfortunately, Caption Delano does not understand. Atufal comes from behind him, and the sailor and his retinue move away. Atufal explains to Delano that the old sailor is crazy and asks to see the rope.

Delano, more confused than ever by the experience with the old sailor, is relieved to see that his whaling boat is drawing closer. He feels that when his men return, there is no possibility of trouble befalling him. He feels even better when Babo approaches him to say that his master will soon come up from below to rejoin Delano.

As Delano watches his whaling boat, he is distressed to see that it is caught in a rip tide and being carried further away. He is disappointed to know that it will now take much longer for it to arrive. Although it is only noon, Delano is so exhausted that he feels it should be night time. When all of his misgivings return, he goes over the events of the day, remembering all the odd occurrences and dismissing them as simply the strange actions of foreigners. He grows anxious to see his own crew again.


When the whale boat finally arrives, there is a chaotic hub-bub amongst the thirsty Spaniards and Africans. Delano asks Cereno for permission to distribute the water so that no one gets hurt and everyone will be guaranteed an equal share. When Cereno dully agrees, Delano starts ordering the Africans back. Then the oakum pickers rise, causing Cereno to let out a cry and falls into a fit. Filled with fear, Delano is ready to jump for his life; but the older Africans move about, helping to gain control and pushing everyone back. Delano chides himself once again for feeling fearful, while Cereno recovers in the arms of Babo.

When he is recovered, Cereno helps to make certain that all the food and drink are shared equally with everyone on the boat. Delano is surprised and pleased about this help. His is so comfortable with the situation that he again sends his men away to fill the water-casks on shore once more; he adds that he will stay on board the San Dominick and pilot her into the harbor when the winds come up.

When his crew departs again, Captain Delano asks Cereno for details about the storm at Cape Horn and inquires what has happened to all the ship's boats, since only one long-boat remains. The Spanish captain is stunned speechless by the questions, not knowing how to answer. Babo interrupts to say that it is time for his master's shave; he claims that Cereno insists on keeping a tight schedule. Delano goes below with them, where he finds that the captain's quarters have been remodeled; all the walls have been taken down to make a large, light, open room. There is a disheveled hammock in one corner and some other odd furnishings.

Babo begins to shave his master. Delano watches as he covers Cereno in a brightly colored cloth and makes elaborate preparations. As Babo raises the razor in an almost threatening manner, the captain shudders, causing the cloth to slip; Delano is amazed to realize it is a Spanish flag. He makes a joke about it, while Babo calms Cereno, reminding him that he has never ever cut him. As Delano looks on, he admires Babo's fine, dexterous movements and thinks that barbering is perfect work for a Negro, for he believes that blacks are born to serve.

As Cereno is being shaved, Delano asks about the gale that struck the San Dominick. Cereno responds by shuddering, causing Babo to nick his throat and draw blood. The servant is very apologetic and encourages his master to tell Delano all the minute details of the storm. Sensing a great tension between the two men, Delano decides that Cereno and Babo are in cahoots about something and wonders what it could be. He then scolds his own imagination as Babo finishes up his task by rubbing Cereno's head furiously with scented water.

Delano departs to go and walk about the deck. Suddenly, Babo appears before him with a large gash on his cheek. He claims that his master cut him in return for the shaving mistake. Delano thinks to himself that slavery is an ugly business. He is amazed to soon see Babo and Cereno together, with no hint of trouble between them. Delano is happy to see that they have worked out their problem.

Francesco, the mulatto steward, comes to announce the mid-day meal and show the two captains to their table. Delano notes that the man is a fine specimen of mixed blood. He remarks to Cereno that someone once told him that a mulatto with a white-man's features is a regular devil; but he believes that a drop or so of white blood improves the Negro race. He asks Cereno if he agrees. Cereno merely responds with a sluggish, "Doubtless." As they eat their frugal lunch, Delano notices that Babo oddly stands behind his chair, staring at his master who sits across from him. Delano assumes he is watching Cereno in order to serve him better.

Delano tries to talk about the financial situation of the San Dominick, but Cereno is not responsive. Delano assumes that it is because Babo is present, so he asks the captain to dismiss the servant. Cereno refuses, saying that all discussions can take place in the servant's presence. He explains that Babo is as good as a first mate, since all his officers are dead. Although Delano is uncomfortable about Babo's presence, he continues the financial conversation. Cereno merely nods and twitches in response.

After lunch, Delano notices that the wind has picked up and is delighted, feeling they may soon be able to head into the harbor. Cereno sits in a stupor, paying no attention to the wind. Delano rushes up on deck to issue orders in order to get the ship underway. He sees Babo come on the deck to shout orders to the African slaves. Delano is grateful for his help. The previously sheepish Spanish sailor takes the helm, accompanied by two blacks. Captain Delano encourages him to steer carefully in order to make the harbor.

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