Benito Cereno

by

Herman Melville

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Placed on an elevated position like the strategic hatchet-polishers, these men separate old ropes into loose strands (oakum). They play a secret policing role, keeping an attentive eye on everything that happens on the San Dominick to make sure that relative order is maintained, so as not to alarm Captain Delano. However, despite their role as sentinels, they attract Delano’s attention when they hit a sailor with a knife after the man expresses hope that Delano might free the Spaniards. Through this violent deed, they provide a first clue that the black slaves, not the Spanish sailors, might actually be in charge.
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The Oakum-Pickers Character Timeline in Benito Cereno

The timeline below shows where the character The Oakum-Pickers appears in Benito Cereno. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Benito Cereno
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
In this state of mind, Delano notices bizarre dynamics. He sees a group of “oakum-pickers”: four old black slaves on an elevated deck who, unlike the excited crowd below, are... (full context)
Leadership and Authority Theme Icon
...be resolved through better policing, which would be able to restore order. Although the old oakum-pickers sometimes intervene to remind their companions to behave, Delano believes that the harsh authority of... (full context)
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Morality vs. Self-Righteousness Theme Icon
Violence and Slavery Theme Icon
Leadership and Authority Theme Icon
...two black slaves violently attack one of the sailors, to the loud protests of the oakum-pickers. When Delano points this out to Cereno, Cereno begins to cough uncontrollably and Babo suddenly... (full context)
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Morality vs. Self-Righteousness Theme Icon
...the sailors. As he walks through a group of black slaves to do so, the oakum-pickers let out a cry and other slaves, like guards, accompany Delano through the crowd. Delano... (full context)