Benito Cereno

The Barber's Mastery in Melville's Benito Cereno

Before the truth surrounding the strange fate of Benito Cereno becomes apparent, Herman Melville effects an intriguing juxtaposition between Don Benito and Babo while the latter adheres to the toilette of his "master." Captain Delano, while watching this masquerade of owner and slave, congratulates the slave on his mastery of the razor, brush and comb without realizing Babo's deadly control over the weakened captain. Melville describes the barber's scene in the cuddy with utmost care and illustrates Babo's role as an impromptu gentleman's valet with intricate detail. Though Melville reaches a climax in the narrative with the slave revolt, the reader is yet unaware of a mutinous plot or dangerous threat while Babo attends to the needs of Don Benito. In this passage, however, Melville foreshadows the treacherous by proffering agency unto Babo and leaving the fragile Don Benito in a realm of dependence and fear. Without divulging the premise of the climax, the hegemonic relationship of Babo and his feigned master is overtly demonstrated by Melville's dramatic details, yet left unexplained until the actual rendering of the slave revolt. By placing the master and slave in traditional roles while...

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