A four-part presentation of Herman Melville’s classic and problematic historical fiction “Benito Cereno” concludes. In the final episode, Captain Amasa Delano has realized what underlies the unease and disorder he’s been witnessing all day aboard the San Dominick. The Spanish captain Benito Cereno has been the puppet of Babo, a Senegalese slave who has led his fellow Africans to revolt. The Africans have been in charge of the decimated Spanish crew the whole time, with the intention of returning home. When Don Benito makes escape by leaping into Captain Delano’s transport boat, the elaborate masquerade is exposed, and the Africans are forced back into violent action. Melville shifts from Delano’s blinkered, racist perspective into a fast-paced action narrative.
The Africans are re-enslaved and taken for trial to Lima, Peru. Melville then devotes nearly a fifth of the story’s total length to sections from the court deposition taken from Don Benito—raising the question of whether legality serves justice, or only the property rights of whites. Babo meets a tragic end, and Don Benito wastes away.
Doug Storm is our reader, with Frank Buczolich reading the deposition. The episode concludes with Tony Brewer reading the poem “Babo Speaks from Lima” by Gary Whitehead, first published in the October 2003 issue of Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies. Sarah Torbeck hosts.
Special music comes from River of Light by Richard Danielpour, as recorded by Tim Fain and Pei-Yao Wang.
Produced by Doug Storm and Cynthia Wolfe with Sarah Torbeck.
Written by Cynthia Wolfe with assistance from Doug Storm.
Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Theme music: The Impossible Shapes