Benito Cereno Questions and Answers
by Herman Melville

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How does Benito Cereno suggest that slavery is a system that damages both slave-holders and the enslaved?

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Benito Cereno tells the tale of a Spanish slave ship. After a revolt, the slaves kill most of the Spaniards and plan to sail the ship to their freedom. The true condition of the slaves on the ship is obviously damaging to them—they are without food and water, and the ship smells and is in great disrepair. Being away from their land is also damaging, as is the fact that the slaves are being transported thousands of miles against their will to be sold. While these factors are at least acknowledged in Benito Cereno, the novella does not actually advocate for their freedom or innocence, which is proven by the fact that the slaves are consistently paired with the color black, which here represents evil.

Physical damage to the slaveholders is most obviously demonstrated by the fact that Babo attacks Delano with a knife, and that the slaves have already killed the majority of the Spanish slaveholders on the ship. The captain of the San Dominick is most heavily mentally damaged, as he realises that there is true evil in the world. He soon dies in a monastery, unable to live with the events of his past. The novella also insinuates that being a slaveholder makes one blind to the difference between good and evil. Captain Delano was ignorant of all the problems on the San Dominick until it was almost too late.

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