Captain Amasa Delano is an interesting embodiment of white complacency about slavery and it's perpetuation. Delano is a human metaphor for white sentiment of the time. His deepest sensibilities of order and hierarchy make it impossible for him to see the realities of slavery. Delano's blindness to the mutiny is a metaphor for his blindness to the moral depravity of slavery. The examination of Captain Delano's views of nature, beauty, and humanity, allow us to see his often confusing system of hierarchical order which cripples his ability to see the mutiny and the injustice of slavery.
After Delano believes that Benito Cereno cut his faithful slave on the cheek for shaving him improperly, Delano exclaims: "slavery breeds ugly passions in man." (p. 77) This is an amazing claim for Delano to make, because Delano's deepest sensibilities are supportive of slavery. We must understand that Delano meant the remark as an offhand comment about Benito Cereno's misunderstanding of hierarchy and how to treat those lower than himself.
Hierarchy is important to Delano. As captain of a seagoing vessel, order and hierarchy are not only important, they are the key to his survival and supposedly to the survival of the ship itself. If order and hierarchy break down, mutiny could ensue. A ship's captain, more than anyone else must have a sense of the value of hierarchy. It is important to understand that while Captain Delano has a rigid sense of hierarchy, he does temper it with an understanding of human nature:
"In armies, navies, cities, or families, in nature herself, nothing more relaxes good order than misery."(p. 42)
So in this sense, Delano's remark that "slavery bree...
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...lave] trades," they "waft him to his grave."
Again and again we see Captain Delano taking delight in what perceives to be the natural order of things. He proclaims the beauty of relationships of order and servitude, he sees them in relationship to nature and celebrates nature who, in his estimation fits into his hierarchy. He ignores the fundamental humanity of the slaves, categorizing them with animals and trade material - he only treats them with the amount of humane-ness that he would an animal. Captain Delano's zeal might be described as a passion for order and hierarchy. In this light we can understand his assertion that "slavery breeds ugly passions in man" as an unconscious description of his own condition. A ugly passion to continue the moral depravity of slavery.
Melville, Herman. Bartleby And Benito Cereno. New York: Dover, 1990.
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