Benito Cereno

by

Herman Melville

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Benito Cereno can help.

Monks and Monasteries Symbol Analysis

Monks and Monasteries Symbol Icon

Instead of reflecting piousness, the monks and monasteries in Benito Cereno most often highlight deception and hidden power dynamics. When Captain Delano first sees the San Dominick, he believes that the people on it are Dominican monks—monks whose costume consists of white and black material. In a situation in which it is unclear whether the white sailors or the black slaves are in power, the idea that everyone onboard is made of a mix of white and black is provocative. It suggests that slaves and their slave-owners are, to a certain extent, inseparable, since the existence of one requires the existence of the other. In addition, in light of the violence on the San Dominick, the association of the people onboard with peaceful monks is highly ironic, since there is nothing spiritual or righteous about the violence that opposes one faction against the other on the ship. Similarly, Delano later finds Babo so devoted and humble that he associates him with a monk, thus confusing outward appearances for sincerity, since Babo is in fact the leader of a brutal revolt. Therefore, at the end of the novella, Benito Cereno’s decision to enter a monastery proves ambiguous, given that the only monastery previously mentioned was an illusory one: the brutal world of the San Dominick. Cereno’s reclusion is thus not given a clear religious connotation, since his retirement can be seen as an effort to hide away from the cruelties of the world, rather than to fight for values such as justice, charity, and peace. Overall, therefore, in Benito Cereno the religious world of Spanish Catholic monasteries is not presented as a true alternative to the brutal system of slavery but, rather, in its unclear moral position, as an institution capable of disguising or ignoring oppression.

Get the entire Benito Cereno LitChart as a printable PDF.
Benito Cereno PDF

Monks and Monasteries Symbol Timeline in Benito Cereno

The timeline below shows where the symbol Monks and Monasteries appears in Benito Cereno. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Benito Cereno
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Morality vs. Self-Righteousness Theme Icon
Violence and Slavery Theme Icon
...Through the thick gray fog, Delano notices that the boat looks like a white European monastery, and he thinks that, from a distance, he can see Dominican monks walking on board.... (full context)
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Violence and Slavery Theme Icon
...Delano realizes that Babo, in his pious attitude and humble attire, looks like a Franciscan monk. (full context)
Leadership and Authority Theme Icon
...improved while on the water but has deteriorated since reaching Lima, is welcomed into a monastery, where members of a religious institution take care of him. The narrator then transcribes part... (full context)
Morality vs. Self-Righteousness Theme Icon
Leadership and Authority Theme Icon
...years old, he is now mentally and physically destroyed, and prefers to retire to a monastery rather than return to Spain. (full context)
Morality vs. Self-Righteousness Theme Icon
Leadership and Authority Theme Icon
...face was turned toward the church where Aranda’s bones were deposed and, farther, toward the monastery where Cereno, three months later, died, thus “follow[ing] his leader.” (full context)