Benito Cereno

by

Herman Melville

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Benito Cereno can help.
Babo’s assistant in the slave rebellion is a tall, imposing man who was previously a tribal leader in Africa (Babo calls him a “king” and Cereno a “chief’). In Captain Delano’s presence, Atufal walks around in chains, an elaborate performance to convince Delano that he is harmless. Delano is told that Atufal has committed an unacceptable deed and must periodically ask forgiveness to Cereno, which the slave refuses to do. This convinces Delano that Atufal has a dignified character and that Cereno must be a cruel slave-master. What Delano ignores is that Atufal is not a helpless victim, but a powerful actor strategically positioned to help Babo in case of trouble. Not much is known about Atufal’s actual personality. Proving just as pragmatic and indifferent to violence as Babo, he takes part in daily meetings with Babo to organize the slaves’ return to Africa and to debate whether they should murder all the Spaniards on board. Like Babo, Atufal never kills anyone himself, preferring to adopt a leadership role. He is killed in the recapture of the San Dominick by Delano’s crew.
Get the entire Benito Cereno LitChart as a printable PDF.
Benito Cereno PDF

Atufal Character Timeline in Benito Cereno

The timeline below shows where the character Atufal appears in Benito Cereno. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Benito Cereno
Violence and Slavery Theme Icon
Leadership and Authority Theme Icon
...wrapped around his body, connected to his neck by a metallic collar. Babo murmurs that Atufal walks like a mute and Cereno recoils in shock. Babo encourages Cereno to ask his... (full context)
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Violence and Slavery Theme Icon
Leadership and Authority Theme Icon
After Atufal leaves, Delano demands an explanation and Cereno says that Atufal has committed an unacceptable act.... (full context)
Morality vs. Self-Righteousness Theme Icon
Violence and Slavery Theme Icon
Leadership and Authority Theme Icon
Delano suggests that Cereno should let Atufal free since he seems so compliant, but Babo mutters that Cereno will never do this.... (full context)
Violence and Slavery Theme Icon
Delano is too confused to know what to do. Atufal is now standing near Delano. The old sailor returns to his previous task and soon... (full context)
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Violence and Slavery Theme Icon
Leadership and Authority Theme Icon
...the cabin and, upon exiting it, is shocked to run into the huge figure of Atufal, who is standing outside. Delano begins to give navigation orders to both the slaves and... (full context)
Morality vs. Self-Righteousness Theme Icon
Violence and Slavery Theme Icon
Delano then informs Cereno that Atufal is waiting outside the door. Cereno shows fear but explains that Atufal must indeed wait... (full context)
Violence and Slavery Theme Icon
Leadership and Authority Theme Icon
...pursue the San Dominick in fast waters. In the meantime, various people are killed, including Atufal and two Spanish sailors who looked as though they were allied with the black slaves.... (full context)
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Violence and Slavery Theme Icon
Leadership and Authority Theme Icon
...sailors on board to handle the ship’s navigation. Cereno talked to Babo, the ringleader, and Atufal, his assistant, asking them to put an end to violence and assuring them that he... (full context)
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Violence and Slavery Theme Icon
Leadership and Authority Theme Icon
...island of Santa Maria, which was uninhabited. In the meantime, after daily strategic discussions with Atufal, Babo announced that they would kill Alexandro Aranda as a safety measure, in order to... (full context)
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Violence and Slavery Theme Icon
...men on the deck, who would distribute hatchets if needed. He also pretended to keep Atufal in chains, and put four older black men in charge of maintaining some order. (full context)
Morality vs. Self-Righteousness Theme Icon
Violence and Slavery Theme Icon
...notes that Babo ordered an inscription to be placed beneath the figure-head and that, although Atufal and Babo were in charge, they never killed anyone themselves. He also notes that, throughout... (full context)