Benito Cereno

by

Herman Melville

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Captain Amasa Delano Character Analysis

The protagonist of Benito Cereno is a ship captain from Duxbury, Massachusetts, operating a ship called the Bachelor’s Delight. As the third-person narrator follows Delano’s point of view throughout the story, giving access to the character’s inner thoughts, it soon becomes apparent that Delano is not a reliable observer. As a ship captain, Delano exudes authority and pragmatism. Focused on respecting good manners, he also proves naturally friendly and generous, determined to behave politely toward others in all situations and to help those in need. However, he also exhibits many moral flaws. First of all, he proves deeply naïve about the existence of violence and cruelty in the world. He rejects the idea that human beings can behave in an evil manner—a belief that leads him to misevaluate risks, such as the possibility that the San Dominick could be a pirate ship. Delano is capable of recognizing the strangeness of certain events, but his thoughts always aim to reassure him, not to delve into the complexity of human nature. Secondly, Delano is deeply racist—more so than he seems to realize. Although he prides himself in being kind toward black people, his racist ideas lead him to believe that black people are inferior to white people and are therefore naturally meant to serve them as slaves. Unwilling (or unable) to reflect on injustice, Delano does not realize that slavery is inherently cruel in its dehumanization of black people. Although Delano’s discovery of the slave revolt on the San Dominick could potentially change his views, since it demonstrates that black people are both intelligent and desperate to regain their freedom, it has no visible effect on Delano’s mindset. Instead of learning from this experience, Delano chooses to ignore it, preferring to remain faithful to his simple-minded view of the world as a naturally just and pleasant place—one in which he is able to live an agreeable life. Delano’s character thus highlights the extent to which, through intense self-centeredness, people can remain blind to the suffering of others and the injustice that exists in the world.

Captain Amasa Delano Quotes in Benito Cereno

The Benito Cereno quotes below are all either spoken by Captain Amasa Delano or refer to Captain Amasa Delano. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of Benito Cereno published in 2016.
Benito Cereno Quotes

Considering the lawlessness and loneliness of the spot, and the sort of stories, at that day, associated with those seas, Captain Delano’s surprise might have deepened into some uneasiness had he not been a person of a singularly undistrustful good nature, not liable, except on extraordinary and repeated incentives, and hardly then, to indulge in personal alarms, any way involving the imputation of malign evil in man. Whether, in view of what humanity is capable, such a trait implies, along with a benevolent heart, more than ordinary quickness and accuracy of intellectual perception, may be left to the wise to determine.

Related Characters: Captain Amasa Delano
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

In armies, navies, cities, or families, in nature herself, nothing more relaxes good order than misery.

Related Characters: Captain Amasa Delano
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

To think that, under the aspect of infantile weakness, the most savage energies might be couched—those velvets of the Spaniard but the silky paw to his fangs.

Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

At last, puzzled to comprehend the meaning of such a knot, Captain Delano addressed the knotter:—

“What are you knotting there, my man?”

“The knot,” was the brief reply, without looking up.

“So it seems; but what is it for?”

“For some one else to undo,” muttered back the old man, plying his fingers harder than ever, the knot being now nearly completed.

While Captain Delano stood watching him, suddenly the old man threw the knot towards him, saying in broken English,—the first heard in the ship,—something to this effect—“Undo it, cut it, quick.”

Related Characters: Captain Amasa Delano (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Knot
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

All this is very queer now, thought Captain Delano, with a qualmish sort of emotion; but as one feeling incipient sea-sickness, he strove, by ignoring the symptoms, to get rid of the malady.

Related Characters: Captain Amasa Delano
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

Am I to be murdered here at the ends of the earth, on board a haunted pirate-ship by a horrible Spaniard?—Too nonsensical to think of! Who would murder Amasa Delano? His conscience is clean.

Related Characters: Captain Amasa Delano (speaker), Don Benito Cereno
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

There is something in the negro which, in a peculiar way, fits him for avocations about one’s person. Most negroes are natural valets and hair-dressers […]. There is, too, a smooth tact about them in this employment, with a marvelous, noiseless, gliding briskness, not ungraceful in its way, singularly pleasing to behold, and still more so to be the manipulated subject of. And above all is the great gift of good humor. Not the mere grin or laugh is here meant. Those were unsuitable. But a certain easy cheerfulness, harmonious in every glance and gesture; as though God had set the whole negro to some pleasant tune.

Related Characters: Captain Amasa Delano (speaker), Don Benito Cereno, Babo
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

At home, he had often taken rare satisfaction in sitting in his door, watching some free man of color at his work or play. If on a voyage he chanced to have a black sailor, invariably he was on chatty, and half-gamesome terms with him. In fact, like most men of a good, blithe heart, Captain Delano took to negroes, not philanthropically but genially, just as other men to Newfoundland dogs.

Related Characters: Captain Amasa Delano, Babo
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

“The castle and the lion,” exclaimed Captain Delano—“why Don Benito, this is the flag of Spain you use here. It’s well it’s only I, and not the King, that sees this,” he added with a smile, “but”—turning towards the black,—“it’s all one, I suppose, so the colors be gay;” which playful remark did not fail some- what to tickle the negro.

Related Characters: Captain Amasa Delano (speaker), Don Benito Cereno, Babo
Related Symbols: Flags
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

Is it possible, thought Captain Delano; was it to wreak in private his Spanish spite against this poor friend of his, that Don Benito, by his sullen manner, impelled me to withdraw? Ah, this slavery breeds ugly passions in man.—Poor fellow!

Related Characters: Captain Amasa Delano (speaker), Don Benito Cereno, Babo
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

That moment, across the long-benighted mind of Captain Delano, a flash of revelation swept, illuminating in unanticipated clearness his host’s whole mysterious demeanor, with every enigmatic event of the day, as well as the entire past voyage of the San Dominick. He smote Babo’s hand down, but his own heart smote him harder. With infinite pity he withdrew his hold from Don Benito. Not Captain Delano, but Don Benito, the black, in leaping into the boat, had intended to stab.

Both the black’s hands were held, as, glancing up towards the San Dominick, Captain Delano, now with the scales dropped from his eyes, saw the negroes, not in misrule, not in tumult, not as if frantically concerned for Don Benito, but with mask torn away, flourishing hatchets and knives, in ferocious piratical revolt.

Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

“You generalize, Don Benito; and mournfully enough. But the past is passed; why moralize upon it? Forget it. See, yon bright sun has forgotten it all, and the blue sea, and the blue sky; these have turned over new leaves.”

“Because they have no memory,” he dejectedly replied; “because they are not human.”

Related Characters: Captain Amasa Delano (speaker), Don Benito Cereno (speaker)
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:

“You are saved,” cried Captain Delano, more and more astonished and pained; “you are saved; what has cast such a shadow upon you?”

“The negro.”

Related Characters: Captain Amasa Delano (speaker), Don Benito Cereno (speaker)
Page Number: 136-137
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Benito Cereno LitChart as a printable PDF.
Benito Cereno PDF

Captain Amasa Delano Character Timeline in Benito Cereno

The timeline below shows where the character Captain Amasa Delano appears in Benito Cereno. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Benito Cereno
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In 1799, an American ship captain, Amasa Delano, from Duxbury, Massachusetts, has anchored his trader ship in a bay near the coast of... (full context)
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Following the ship’s course, Delano notices that it moves hesitantly and ambiguously, at times coming close to the shore, and... (full context)
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Delano notices that the ship is in disrepair. He compares its bare, devastated structure to the... (full context)
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Delano is able to board the ship and is surprised to note that the black slaves... (full context)
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In this state of mind, Delano notices bizarre dynamics. He sees a group of “oakum-pickers”: four old black slaves on an... (full context)
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After observing these characters, Delano seeks the captain of the ship, whom he discovers to be Don Benito Cereno, a... (full context)
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...he will be able to speak with the sailors thanks to his knowledge of Spanish, Delano concludes that everyone looks as though they have suffered tremendously. He feels compassion for the... (full context)
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Delano is also frustrated by Benito Cereno’s moodiness and passivity, which makes Cereno behave rudely toward... (full context)
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Delano wonders if Cereno might be behaving this way because he believes that showing detachment gives... (full context)
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Curious to better understand the San Dominick’s misadventures, Delano resolves to interrogate the person who would best be able to relate them: the captain.... (full context)
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...owes his survival to Babo. While Babo humbly reiterates that he only obeyed his duty, Delano, impressed by what he has heard, concludes that Babo is a true friend and cannot... (full context)
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Reflecting on this situation, Delano is struck by Cereno’s description of the terrible calm that the San Dominick experienced and... (full context)
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Cereno then invites Delano to follow him to an elevated deck to the rear of the ship, the poop... (full context)
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Delano interrogates Cereno about the role of the oakum pickers and the hatchet-polishers, but Cereno answers... (full context)
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After Atufal leaves, Delano demands an explanation and Cereno says that Atufal has committed an unacceptable act. Cereno hesitates... (full context)
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Delano suggests that Cereno should let Atufal free since he seems so compliant, but Babo mutters... (full context)
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Afterwards, Cereno and Babo begin to whisper to each other, apart from Delano. He notices that Cereno no longer looks dignified and that Babo has lost his naïve... (full context)
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Delano wonders if Cereno’s mysterious behavior could be explained by the fact that he is crazy,... (full context)
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Cereno then approaches Delano and interrogates him about his ship. Delano tells him that they have been in this... (full context)
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Finding that Babo and Cereno look like conspirators and confused about Cereno’s questions, Delano once again begins to wonder if Cereno might have ulterior motives. Despite Delano’s naturally trusting... (full context)
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Delano walks off for a few moments and notices a young Spanish sailor hide a glittering... (full context)
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Influenced by this foreboding environment, Delano feels uncomfortable about Cereno. He wonders if this ship is a pirate ship, although he... (full context)
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Delano ultimately tells himself that Cereno must simply be too unwell to know what he is... (full context)
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As the boat approaches, Delano witnesses another scene of disorder on the San Dominick: two black slaves violently attack one... (full context)
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Delano wonders if he should chat with some sailors, but remembers one of Cereno’s comments about... (full context)
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While searching for a sailor to talk with, Delano notices one whose hand has turned black from constantly handling tar. Concerned by the ghastly... (full context)
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After leaving the group, Delano runs into a slave mother lying down while her child is climbing over her, trying... (full context)
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Delano then looks for his boat, notices it is still far away, and decides to walk... (full context)
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Delano searches for his boat again and is frustrated to see that it is currently hidden... (full context)
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Delano then reflects that whites are “the shrewder race.” He wonders if Cereno might secretly be... (full context)
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Delano is too confused to know what to do. Atufal is now standing near Delano. The... (full context)
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Although Delano finds the whole situation unnerving, he decides to ignore it, preferring not to be disturbed... (full context)
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Babo then arrives, telling Delano that Cereno invites him below deck. Happy about this unexpected turn of events, which confirms... (full context)
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Walking toward Cereno’s lodgings, Delano is annoyed to realize that the calm seas will make it difficult for his boat... (full context)
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Cereno then appears and Delano asks him if he can organize the sharing of provisions, so that no one might... (full context)
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Finally, when the boxes are on deck, Delano begins to distribute water impartially to both the black slaves and white sailors. He saves... (full context)
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Delano then laments that Cereno has no boats. Cereno says that they were lost in the... (full context)
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When Delano sees Cereno’s cabin, he finds find it small and packed, as it serves various functions,... (full context)
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Delano adds that black people are naturally meant to become slaves because their minds are limited... (full context)
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As Babo prepares to shave Cereno, Delano is entertained by Babo’s decision to set a small colored piece of cloth underneath Cereno’s... (full context)
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...Cereno not to shake because it makes Babo more likely to cut him. Babo reminds Delano to resume their previous conversation about the storm, and Delano explains that he does find... (full context)
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Noticing that Cereno cannot be shaken out of his depressed stupor, Delano walks out of the room. Babo exits the cabin a moment later with a cut... (full context)
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A young, biracial servant, Francesco, then announces lunch. Noticing the boy’s beauty and agreeable voice, Delano asks Cereno if he is a good man. Delano gives a laconic positive answer, in... (full context)
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Delano and Cereno then enter the cabin and sit around the table. Delano notices that Babo... (full context)
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During the lunch, Delano hopes to be left alone with Cereno so that they can discuss financial matters, but... (full context)
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Delano thus leaves the cabin and, upon exiting it, is shocked to run into the huge... (full context)
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Delano then informs Cereno that Atufal is waiting outside the door. Cereno shows fear but explains... (full context)
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As the hours go by and Delano finally sees his ship nearby, he invites Cereno to come with him to the Bachelor’s... (full context)
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Still hurt by Cereno’s moody behavior, Delano prepares to board his ship without insisting that Cereno join him. Leaving the cabin, Delano... (full context)
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Walking from the dark corridor into the light, Delano feels revived and chides himself for doubting the powers of Providence. He concludes that, even... (full context)
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Delano orders the boat to leave and, as soon as he does so, Cereno jumps into... (full context)
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In that moment, Delano finally understands the whole series of mysterious events he has witnessed. While he subdues Babo,... (full context)
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As the boat moves away from the San Dominick, Delano finally sees the human skeleton used as a figure-head, set above the ship’s motto: Follow... (full context)
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Delano proceeds to plan the capture of the San Dominick. Cereno says that a Spanish sailor... (full context)
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Delano decides that the boats will be more effective than the ship to chase the San... (full context)
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Delano’s men tell the Spanish sailors, who are hiding as high as they can, to cut... (full context)
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Cereno notes that, throughout Captain Delano’s visit, Babo stayed by his side, playing the part of a faithful slave when in... (full context)
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Throughout his testimony, Cereno emphasizes his gratitude for Delano’s generosity. In his concluding remarks, he mentions that he does not believe the black slaves... (full context)
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Cereno notes that certain crew members tried to alert Captain Delano to what was happening, but that the sailors’ fear and Delano’s innocence, which kept him... (full context)
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...after the San Dominick was recaptured but that, as soon as he discovered this, Captain Delano intervened to keep other men from doing the same. Cereno concludes his testimony by asserting... (full context)
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...should now appear open and bare. The narrator then proceeds to describe an earlier event: Delano and Cereno’s conversations during their trip to Lima. During this period, Cereno, whose health seems... (full context)
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Delano then concludes that he owes Cereno his life, but Cereno, finally expressing his politeness and... (full context)
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Cereno then reflects on Delano’s experience. He notes that, although Delano spent many hours with Cereno, Delano ultimately suspected innocent... (full context)
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Surprised by Cereno’s gloomy tone, Delano enjoins him to forget the past and focus on the future, instead of reflecting on... (full context)
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...leading the revolt, the narrator emphasizes, depended on his intelligence, not his physical stature, since Delano overcame him so easily in the boat—remained silent as soon as he understood that there... (full context)