4. Benito Cereno by Herman Melville (Chapter 2: The Gordian Knot)

Updated: Jun 16, 2021


This is my reading of chapter 2 of "Benito Cereno" by Herman Melville.


Please note that this is part 4 of the series on this novella.


Part One I created an introduction for the text.

Part Two I have read Chapter 1: A Ship in Distress.

Part Three I have created a summary of Chapter 1 and a Closer Look into that chapter.


Please note that the Chapter breakdown and titles are my own creation they are not Melville's. I have broken it down this way to make it easier to digest. 


Up next will be a summary of Chapter 2 as well as a closer look into the chapter.




 

Benito Cereno

by Herman Melville


Chapter 2: The Gordian Knot


At this moment, with a dreary grave-yard toll, betokening a flaw, the ship's forecastle bell, smote by one of the grizzled oakum-pickers, proclaimed ten o'clock, through the leaden calm; when Captain Delano's attention was caught by the moving figure of a gigantic black, emerging from the general crowd below, and slowly advancing towards the elevated poop. An iron collar was about his neck, from which depended a chain, thrice wound round his body; the terminating links padlocked together at a broad band of iron, his girdle.


"How like a mute Atufal moves," murmured the servant.


The black mounted the steps of the poop, and, like a brave prisoner, brought up to receive sentence, stood in unquailing muteness before Don Benito, now recovered from his attack.


At the first glimpse of his approach, Don Benito had started, a resentful shadow swept over his face; and, as with the sudden memory of bootless rage, his white lips glued together.[pg 147]


This is some mulish mutineer, thought Captain Delano, surveying, not without a mixture of admiration, the colossal form of the negro.


"See, he waits your question, master," said the servant.


Thus reminded, Don Benito, nervously averting his glance, as if shunning, by anticipation, some rebellious response, in a disconcerted voice, thus spoke:—


"Atufal, will you ask my pardon, now?"


The black was silent.


"Again, master," murmured the servant, with bitter upbraiding eyeing his countryman, "Again, master; he will bend to master yet."


"Answer," said Don Benito, still averting his glance, "say but the one word, pardon, and your chains shall be off."


Upon this, the black, slowly raising both arms, let them lifelessly fall, his links clanking, his head bowed; as much as to say, "no, I am content."


"Go," said Don Benito, with inkept and unknown emotion.


Deliberately as he had come, the black obeyed.[pg 148]


"Excuse me, Don Benito," said Captain Delano, "but this scene surprises me; what means it, pray?"


"It means that that negro alone, of all the band, has given me peculiar cause of offense. I have put him in chains; I—"


Here he paused; his hand to his head, as if there were a swimming there, or a sudden bewilderment of memory had come over him; but meeting his servant's kindly glance seemed reassured, and proceeded:—


"I could not scourge such a form. But I told him he must ask my pardon. As yet he has not. At my command, every two