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Benito Cereno

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  6,739 ratings  ·  458 reviews
"What has cast such a shadow upon you?"
"The Negro."

With its intense mix of mystery, adventure, and a surprise ending, Benito Cereno at first seems merely a provocative example from the genre Herman Melville created with his early best-selling novels of the sea. However, most Melville scholars consider it his most sophisticated work, and many, such as novelist Ralph Ellison
Paperback, 124 pages
Published May 1st 2006 by Melville House (first published 1855)
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Average rating 3.59  · 
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 ·  6,739 ratings  ·  458 reviews

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Jan 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: littry-fiction
melville! in a melville house edition!
crazy, right?

this is a nice taut little thrill-ride of a book. okay, it's got a lot of description of boat-architecture, so it isn't a complete thriller - melville does tend to go overboard (GET IT??) with the descriptions sometimes, but regardless, it is more emotionally engaging than, say, that book about the whale. and i haven't read a book more full of seamen since reading Torn.

to a modern reader, the situation is pretty apparent from the get-go, but th
Bill Kerwin

This novella—in which Amasa Delano, an American captain, visits a mysterious Spanish slave-ship captained by Benito Cereno--is my favorite of Melville’s short works. It is not only as profound as Bartleby and Budd but also more pleasing. A first-rate adventure, it features an innocent in peril, the flash of steel, the flow of blood, surprises, astonishment, a hairbreadth escape, and a last minute rescue. Yet somehow it has never been a favorite with the average reader.

Perhaps this is because bo
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Feb 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
Whew. Gut-punch. I'm going to attempt to tread lightly here, as any real down-and-dirty analysis of this story would be a worse spoiler of the plot's resolution than the Barton Fink DVD menu screen (and if you haven't seen this so-awesome-there-are-no-words-movie and you decide to watch it on DVD, do yourself a favor and mute the sound, insert the disk, close your eyes, press play, and only then un-mute and enjoy. You will thank me later.)

So, yeah...foray into the realm of the audio book! I lis
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Jan 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014

I'm still dancing around the big white whale, putting off a re-read of Moby Dick by approaching it at a tangent, tackling other, shorter books by Melville. Benito Cereno does a great job in showcasing the talent of the master, combining a sea-tale with a moving account of human souls pushed to the limits of endurance and beyond.

Using a similar tehnique to Bartleby, The Scrivener , the main character is revealed indirectly, through the eyes of a benevolent witness. In this case the narrator i
Aug 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an ambiguous tale in which so much is not what it seems, and one that leaves the reader with some ambiguity as to what the author is intending to say. It is an uncomfortable read, in that one wishes to be on the side of Benito Cereno and his crew, who are being held in peril of their lives, and not the mutineers, who appear to have murdered indiscriminately, yet one cannot quite forget that the mutineers are slaves being transported for sale, who are thus justified in their hatred and cr ...more
Jun 23, 2013 added it
Shelves: usa, 19th-century
Everything was mute and calm; everything gray. The sea, though undulated into long roods of swells, seemed fixed, and was sleeked at the surface like waved lead that has cooled and set in the smelter's mould. The sky seemed a gray surtout. Flights of troubled gray fowl, kith and kin with flights of troubled gray vapors among which they were mixed, skimmed low and fitfully over the waters, as swallows over meadows before storms. Shadows present, foreshadowing deeper shadows to come.

And come they
Andrew Edstrom
Unreadable. Probably good if you have the patience for it, which I do not. After reading a page three or four times without understanding anything, smoke starts coming out of my ears. I turn green, double in size, don a pair of tight ripped purple shorts and reduce texts of "classic literature" to public-domain wood pulp. Okay, I have to stop writing this review now, I'm getting mad just thinking about it.
A thought-provoking novella by Herman Melville, master of multi-layered stories and convoluted sentences. In Benito Cereno, an American merchant ship, The Bachelor's Delight, stumbles upon a more battered and worn-down ship, the San Dominick. Captain Delano, leader of the American ship, soon learns about how the San Dominick got into such a horrid condition, and he gets in close contact with the Spanish captain Benito Cereno as well as his slave Babo. Delano realizes though that this situation h ...more
B. P. Rinehart
When I first read Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison at age 13, one of the two epigrams used for the book was this: "'You are saved,' cried Captain Delano, more and more astonished and pained; 'you are saved: what has cast such a shadow upon you?'" Of course, I had not read this novella yet, but Ellison was going to spend the whole of his novel answering Amassa Delano. This book was written in 1855 when it was becoming inevitable that slavery was going to force the United States to a breaking-point. ...more
Apr 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
This novella takes a bit of patience to get into, but once you do, you are greatly rewarded. There's suspense, there's ambiguity (ambiguity galore!). There's much to think about, I suspect, for quite a long time after you're finished.

The reader probably understands what has happened long before the American captain (we see most of the story through him) does, but there is plenty enough in the revelation that has you paging backwards and stopping yourself from paging forwards. Only once is the r
Jul 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lit-fiction
Melville is a genius. This short Gothic novella begins ploddingly and quite dull but builds in tension and horror almost imperceptibly (unless you already know the story) to a sudden and all-encompassing tragic climax. Based on a true story, it was written and left by Melville as an exposition of facts seen from all sides and leaves all the uncomfortable questions in a bloody lump on your lap, "here, you answer them."

There was unfortunately one thing I couldn't get past, one bias that I brought
Fascinating and deeply unsettling nineteenth century tale about race, slavery, crime and deception at sea. Although Melville’s motives on these issues—if even he knew what they were—are not clear, that in itself is what makes the story so enduring and timeless. However, what earns five stars from me is Melville's skillful handling of his real objective which was to show the reader how his/her own prejudices and biases (especially concerning race and slavery) affect perceptions.

Benito Cereno is
May 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Will review later.
Jun 19, 2020 rated it it was ok
I had to read this one for class and I didn't really enjoy it very much. I found the beginning to be extremely slow and also quite boring, I was not interested and the writing style wasn't helping me get into the story at all. It got a bit better in the second half of the story, but that's it. The aspect that I appreciated is how the story tried to offer a glimpse into what slavery and the slave trade were, but if you're interested in learning more about these topics I'm sure there are better wo ...more
Every year, there's that one "classic" where you're the only person of color in the room and you have to cringe through a professor just narrowly catching themselves on every slur and instance of racist depictions possible. This is that classic for this year.
Edward Rathke
Oct 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a tricky book to rate. In some ways it seems explicitly racist and at other times seems the exact opposite. Also, the first half is a sort of mystery and the second half is sort of a meta-examination of the first.

It's a confounding text and I don't really know what to think of it. In regard to race: I've always read Melville as being more generous to minority groups than many and so I'm inclined to think this is more a tale of mutiny without any real regard to race. The africans are give
Oct 22, 2018 rated it did not like it
This *could* be criticism of a man whose racism makes him blind, but it is SO long and unnecessarily detailed (it’s an 80-page “short story”) and obvious and repetitive (“He thought about this and this and this, but then decided not to think it was strange like it obviously is, hint hint!!”) and the Africans are still the source of suspense which places them in the role of villains. Slave revolts are interesting and important historical subject matter, but the third person POV of an oblivious ra ...more
John Mccullough
This is a short novel/novelette or a very long short story. It is based on an actual historical event that took place in the first decade of the 19th century. It involves the interactions of two sea captains – the Spaniard (or Chileño) Benito Cereno and the US captain from Duxbury, Massachusetts, Amasa Delano. Oddly, names of the ships were changed, although at least one as a pun to placate Herman Melville’s sense of humor.

It is impossible to present the story outline or basic plot without divul
Jul 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Massachusetts whaling ship is anchored off the island of Santa Maria when another ship, looking listless and forlorn, drifts toward the island. When the captain and a few men head over to investigate, they find Spanish sailors and black slaves desperate for water and supplies. The captain of this hapless lot, Benito Cereno, seems weak, aloof, and entirely unqualified to command a ship. What’s the deal?

Don’t read the back of the book or descriptions of the plot, as knowing anything about the e
Oct 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Delano knows Cereno's name, not his story
Garden of
Jan 01, 2013 rated it liked it
I read my first Melville novella at the end of last year, Bartleby the Scrivener, and loved Melville’s use of antique language and his highly wrought sentence structures. However initially I found Benito Cereno tough going for the same reasons. It was only in retrospect I realised crafty old Melville is employing circumlocution as a means of heightening the sense of confusion in which the book abounds.

The book has to be read twice, once from the perspective of the unreliable narrator, the ‘good
Aug 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Wowza. I don't even know what to say about Benito Cereno. This is my first Melville, believe it or not. I've never read his other works, and this is quite the introduction.

Melville House says, "Based on a real-life incident--the character names remain unchanged--Benito Cereno tells what happens when an American merchant ship comes upon a mysterious Spanish ship where the nearly all-black crew and their white captain are starving and yet hostile to offers of help. Melville's most focused politica
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think, that after Bartleby and after this, I am finally coming round to Melville's writing style
It just took me a while to appreciate that damn Melville doesn't like plot or action- rather to me his short stories are marked by inaction- a suspended tranquility inundated with description. Gosh damn Melville likes description- not only that, but he likes description that is almost peripeheral to any point that he is trying to make. The meaning lies behind his ample description, in what is not b
George K. Ilsley
This is my first reading of this Melville short work, and feel I must read it again — now knowing the whole story. On the first reading we view the situation only through the eyes of the American whaling captain: we see his fears and judgments. There are layers of meaning to peel away here, and all the more so since this novella is apparently based on a real incident.
The notions of oppression and control are explored in a way that feels dangerous — like trying to disarm a bomb.
Dec 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I actually really enjoyed this. I think many could benefit from a second read, just because you'll actually be able to recognize and pick up the clues easier the second time around (in reference to the ending).
Leo Walsh
Jun 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For me, Melville represents a dichotomy. I've never cared for MOBY DICK and have read it multiple times, figuring I had missed something. But while I can understand why people like it, to me it seemed too long and self-consciously "artsy" to me. Which is doubly odd since my favorite book of all times us James Joyce's ULYSSES, perhaps the most self-conscious and artsy-fartsy book ever written.

On the other hand, I have enjoyed Melville's shorter works, like BILLY BUDD, SAILOR. And Mellville's nov
Jan 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: school
Let me start off by saying that I didn’t really “get” this story as it was intended to be “got.” By which I mean that I didn’t intuit the author’s purpose organically. I think that by and large the “moral” of the story is lost on modern readers because (1) the myth of the happy slave is long dead, which diminishes the dramatic reveal, and (2) we expect even our most subtle explorations of race relations to be more progressive than “Benito Cereno” is.

Truly as a modern reader I was uncomfortable
Aug 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was recently alerted to this novella by a Goodreads friend, and I'm glad I looked it up. It was every bit as good as he said it was, and for all the reasons he mentioned. The only reason I didn't give it five stars was that I was put off by the almost preternatural benevolence and innocence of Captain Delano, from whose point of view the novella is written. We see the mysterious slave ship entirely through his eyes, and while he very, very slowly starts to get inklings that things are not what ...more
Richard Levine
Jan 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
Working my way up to a re-read of Moby Dick, so am re-reading some of Melville's shorter works. . . .

And Benito Cereno is definitely a work that bears -- perhaps requires -- re-reading. The first time through Benito Cereno seems mostly like a moody, mysterious adventure story -- until the end. But then when you re-read it knowing the big reveal, it shows itself as a master class in irony and ambiguity. Even this time around, I thought I mostly knew what was going on, and then at the very last I
"Benito Cereno" were never meant to be read only once. However, it took me some multiple reads into this short novel to make sense of the plot as the book need to be absorbed more than its meant to be read. Based on a true story, "Benito Cereno" was narrated by a very gullible unreliable narrator about a mysterious Spanish slave trade ship and its strange occupants. Like most thing in history about that time, the story basically centered about imperialism, slavery, white man burden, prejudices e ...more
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There is more than one author with this name

Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. His first two books gained much attention, though they were not bestsellers, and his popularity declined precipitously only a few years later. By the time of his death he had been almost completely forgotten, but his longest novel, Moby Dick — largely considered a failure d

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“But the past is passed; why moralize upon it? Forget it. See, yon bright son has forgotten it all, and the blue sea, and the blue sky; these have turned over new leaves.

Because they have no memory . . . because they are not human.”
“Nature cared not a jot.” 9 likes
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