Story of the Week: “Benito Cereno”

Story of the Week is a new feature I’ll be running here! Here’s the idea: I’m fairly sure that I read more than the average person nowadays, so why not record those readings on this blog? Reading is a great part of my major, my interests, and my life, so it fits seamlessly into the rest of my activities. Who can deny the unique feelings exuded from reading a great story? I’ll be recording my experiences reading great stories and explain why you all should read them, too!


Herman Melville

Avid readers and students of literature should easily recognize this legendary American storyteller, Herman Melville, with utmost appreciation, respect, and reverence (in my humble opinion). After having read Moby Dick in full twice, I ventured into other Melvillean  stories, such as Bartleby and Benito Cereno. Unfortunately, I finished Bartleby weeks ago and had not had this blog around that time so I was unable to record my feelings toward that story! However, I finished Benito Cereno today.

Not many would claim Melville to be the most audacious and diversified of authors: while he is a unique storyteller, most of his stories share the same style and idea. Cereno captures the seafaring tales of Moby Dick and the barefaced, mundane essence of Bartleby into one. At times, the story can drag, but it is a short one that is worth the time spent reading if not only for the ending and the mysterious reveal midway through the story.

The story of Cereno is simple. A Massachusetts whaling ship captain (sound familiar?) named Amasa Delano, who is traveling in his Bachelor’s Delight at the beginning of the story, meets the master of the San Dominick named Don Benito Cereno off the coast of Santa Maria. Captain Delano visits the San Dominick and observes much of the activity going on around the decrepit ship. Delano is confused by the state of the suffering ship. He wonders much about Don Benito and his captaining skills, but nonetheless urges the crew of the San Dominick that he will help their ship return to form. Don Benito is constantly accompanied by his young black slave named Babo, as well.  Mystery, suspicion, and secrecy pervades Don Benito’s atmosphere, as Delano mentions throughout his time meeting with him. Slowly but surely, the story tenses and much of the plot thickens. Without directly spoiling anything, I can remark that Melville puts his all into this story to startle the reader. While the story may seem dry through the first half, the second half picks up rapidly and leaves the reader with a more than satisfying ending to boot. The first half’s dryness begins to make sense, and it all comes together brilliantly!

Benito Cereno is written with attention to detail and hypothetical imaginations; essentially, it is Melville. While I won’t say that this is his best story – that’s his greatest work, Moby Dick, by a great margin simply because of its astounding significance to American literature – Melville shines here, as he always has. 

I had an entertaining time reading this story. I recommend that the readers of this blog check it out if they haven’t already. Apparently, most people have read this story in high school once in their lives. Being younger than most students of literature, I can see that this post may be bringing up unfortunate memories of having been forced to read this inconceivable story during your sophomore year. If you were in that situation, I pity you! The story is a demanding one. However, if you are familiar with Melville, you won’t find this story to be too difficult of a read. While it may be a bit more difficult than Bartleby, it’s the same as Moby Dick in style. It’s about 80 pages in my edition, which is not very long from my experience of reading stories.

Try it! Read it! Experience the story!

Next week, I’ll be talking about One Hundred Years of Solitude in detail while I read my next story, which I won’t unveil just yet! Solitude is a beautifully written novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who I wrote about in a previous post here. More people need to experience it.