Social Institutions In John Delano's Benito Cereno

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In Benito Cereno, there is a prevalent focus on social institutions that consists of multiple layers: Delano’s perception and the reality of the situation. At face value, Delano observes the tableau status quo that Babo crafted to deceive him. However, behind this elaborate play lies the true state of the ship’s hierarchy: a ship of scheming, rebellious African Americans with Babo at the forefront as the mastermind. It’s made apparent multiple times that there is more to the social status of within the ship, past Delano’s racist colored views of slaves and masters. Through the use of these scenes, Melville comments that social institutions are not inherent hierarchies dictated by race, but rather a complex relationship that can fluctuate depending …show more content…
This belief is introduced in passing as Delano naively brushes off the overwhelming number of blacks on deck after Benito’s reassurance on their passivity. He forgoes his own observation and suspicion in favor of believing that Benito, a fellow white, held control over the ship and the inferior slaves. Delano’s faulty perception is further manipulated in the scene with a chained Atufal being made to ask for forgiveness from Benito for vague transgressions. Delano marvels at this sight with a “mixture of admiration” as the bounded form of the titanic Atufal is under the mercy of Benito (Page 54). His previous doubts of Benito’s leadership is cleared by this sight, witnessing a quintessential example of a master and slave relationship. In his eyes, Benito firmly holds the key to Atufal’s freedom; Atufal, a towering and intimidating grown man, bounded by a mere padlock and key held by the sickly Benito. This serves to only further strengthen Delano’s belief in the inherent superiority of whites over blacks. However, underneath Delano’s stark observation lies one of many plots Babo uses to deceive Delano. In reality, Atufal is second in command on the ship. The padlock and key only served to stimulate Delano’s sense of racism and falsely reassure him of Benito’s command. It’s evident through Benito, who was “nervously averting his glance” and anticipated a “rebellious response,” that Atufal was not bounded (Page 54). He merely acted in accordance with Babo’s play. Contrary to Delano’s belief in white superiority, the ones who truly held the key were Babo and

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