Benito Cereno

The idea of performance of power relation in benito cereno?

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Benito Cereno" is a performance on every level. Melville performs the perspective of Captain Delano; Captain Delano performs the role of the benign racist; Benito Cereno performs the part of power (all the while wearing a stuffed, swordless scabbard); and then there are the grand performances of the slaves: Babo, Atufal, Francesco and the rest. Even the symbols of "Benito Cereno" have a performative quality; the "Black Friars" of the order of St. Dominic, for example, were associated with a London monastery which Henry VIII abolished and converted to a theater.

To some degree, the theme of performance corresponds to the age-old notion of appearance versus reality. For most of the tale, Cereno appears to be in control, while in reality Babo is in control, holding Cereno at dagger-point like a marionette by his strings. Similarly, Captain Delano affects a loathing of slavery throughout the tale, yet he is in reality quite content with the institution, at one point offering to buy Babo as a slave and at the end of the tale participating in the re-enslavement of the San Dominick's mutineers.

Yet these realities have performative characteristics as well. Cereno's deposition of the truth is staged as court testimony; the decorum and protocol of court becomes itself a performance. And Babo, once his "real" self is revealed, does not lose his dramatic flair. He performs his defeat - his stoic silence - as eloquently as he played the stooge for Delano. Melville thus suggests that performance is not in opposition to reality. Realities, too, are performed. The attempt of Cereno, Delano and the vice-regal court in Lima to "shed light" on the incidents on board the San Dominick is just as much an attempt to close off light - to perform a definitive answer, leaving no room for contrary opinions (such as Babo's). One must always be aware of who is claiming something as well as what they are claiming, which is an apt segue to the theme of perspective.