In "Benito Cereno," the narrator is Amasa Delano, the captain of a Massachusetts whaling ship. When the story begins, Captain Delano and his ship, the Bachelor's Delight, are anchored off the island of Santa Maria. The Delight is a sealer, or whaling ship. While anchored, the crew spots another ship coming toward the island. The new ship seems to be floating without much energy, and her sails are torn. Delano decides to send a boat over to investigate. "Rudely painted or chalked, as in a sailor freak, along the forward side of a sort of pedestal below the canvas, was the sentecne, "Seguid vuestro iefe," (follow the leader); while upon the tarnished head-boards, nearby, appeared, in stately capitals, once gilt, the ship's name, "SAN DOMINICK," each letter streakingly corroded with tricklings of copper-spike rust; while, like mourning weeds, dark festoons of sea-grass slimily swept to and fro over the name, with every hearse-like roll of the hull" (p2697-2698). It seems highly unlikely that in "Benito Cereno", Melville was deliberately trying to portray blacks as being rightly condemned to slavery. “Benito Cereno” is an exploration of the relationship between blacks and whites.
Delano tells Cereno he will give him some supplies, some sailors, and some rigging to help them reach the nearest port. This momentarily cheers up Cereno, but then Babo draws him aside, claiming the excitement is bad for his master, and when Cereno returns, he is morose again. “Such generosity was not without its effect, even upon the invalid. His face lighted up; eager and hectic, he met the honest glance of his visitor. With gratitude he seemed overcome” (p2705). As Delano moves across the ship whenever Cereno is otherwise occupied, he often gets an intuitive feeling of suspicion, that something is wrong. He notices a small black boy hit a white cabin boy on the head with a knife, and lightly chides Cereno for allowing this to happen. The other captain acknowledges the incident, but makes no effort to punish the attacker, “Pretty serious sport truly,” rejoined Captain Delano. “Had such a thing happened on board the Bachelor’s Delight, instant punishment would have followed” (p2706). The strange incidents begin to pile up: the young back slave hitting the white boy without any reprimand from Cereno, the Spanish sailors seeming to motion to him, the whispering between Cereno and Babo, and the two blacks knocking down the sailor. Yet each time, Delano's trusting nature causes him to dismiss his suspicions. Had Delano found out the truth about the slaves and tried to act, he almost certainly would have been caught by Babo and killed on the spot. By being so trusting, Delano falls for the arranged scam that Babo concocts, and this allows Cereno to survive until he can leap down into Delano's boat. The story reveals itself very slowly, and it frustrating to the reader. Delano does