The Lawyer vs. Captain Delano
In Bartleby the Scrivener and Benito Cereno, both narrators are adversely affected by their obtuseness and preconceived notions about social order. The lawyer narrates and owns the law firm where Bartleby the Scrivener is employed. Captain Delano, narrator of Benito Cereno who tries to assist Captain Cereno and his battered ship and men. Both narrators are blind to the clues that hint that they are in danger or a serious event will soon occur, making them appear naive and perhaps, stupid. Captain Delanos ignorance and social conditioning have made him resistant to accepting a revolt has unfolded on the San Dominick. Delano is significantly more affected by his preconceived notions about social order and his ignorance than the lawyer in Bartleby the Scrivener.
Much like the lawyer, whose series of events with Bartleby have been characterized as issues with charity, Delano falls under the same mind trap that he must help the tattered sailors. However, the lawyer does not seem as ignorant as Delano. The lawyers problem stems from the fact that he doesnt know how to deal with and eventually get rid of Bartleby. The issue is not ignorance but confrontation between the lawyer and Bartleby. Delano on the other hand, succumbed to his well-natured obliviousness and overlooks clues of a mutiny right under his nose. However, because of his social conditioning leading him to believe that these events could not possibly occur, even though they crossed his mind, he nearly leads himself and his entire crew to their demise.
Captain Delano can be shortly described as a person of a singularly undistrustful good nature (2695). So upon seeing the San Dominick, Delano doesnt consider any adverse reason why the ship would be in such a dilapidated condition. Delano describes the sails being torn, the deck in shambles, and a tarp or sheet draping the figurehead on the front of the ship. Even with the San Dominicks ghostly appearance, Delano orders one of his smaller boats to sail over when it doesnt port. Upon boarding the ship Delano is immediately attacked by white sailors and black slaves begging for food and water. Delano, without second thought, sends his men for part of their own supplies. While waiting for their return Delano meets Captain Cereno, who cant or wont explain why the ship is in tatters and without supplies until Delano says he will ask one of the sailors. Cerenos aversion to Delano speaking with the rest of the crew should have tipped Delano off immediately that something was wrong but instead he dismisses the action by concluding that Cereno must be ill in body and mind. Cereno goes on to explain that they had to throw many their supplies, including fresh water, overboard to make the ship lighter in the heavy storms. Cerenos action of throwing fresh water out should have been Delanos second clue. Probably the most important thing to keep is fresh water for survival because you can only live a day or two without. Again Delano dismisses it to Cerenos inexperience as a Captain when in actuality it was the inexperience of the slaves who overthrew Cereno. Cereno also tells Delano that ALL the other officers died of ailments in their travels. This set of circumstances should have definitely stuck out to Delano. Wouldnt the officers get more food, water, and better accommodations than the rest of the crew? Why would they be the first to die? Yet again, Delano dismisses any thought more than these sailors had terrible luck. A more complex clue came from one of the Spanish sailors. He had tied a rope in an intricate knot and said to Delano, Undo it, cut it, quick (2710) meaning that Delano quickly need to figure out what had happened on the ship but Delano didnt. The clue that should have sent Delano rowing back to the Bachelors Delight immediately was the free-roaming slaves. At that time in history, it would have been unimaginable to do so. Even Delano stated in reference to the unchained slaves that, The ship seemed unreal; these strange costumes, gestures and faces (2698). Cereno explains to Delano that their owner was quite right in saying that they were well mannered and obedient. Even though that comment was absurd to Delano, he accepted what the captain had to say. An overthrow by the slaves would have been thought to be impossible even though all the signs on the San Dominick pointed to that explanation. Since black people were seen as stupid, weak, and incapable of planning anything close to an overthrow of the ship, the thought never crossed Delanos mind even as he became more suspicious of the activity on the San Dominick. However, he should have listened to his intuition, his ignorance and eagerness to help almost cost him his life. So why would he ignore the signs or not recognize what happened?
Teachings from World and American History classes taught us at that time Blacks and slaves were not seen as real people. They were seen as property to be owned and used by the White people. Blacks were thought to have no intelligence or be able to perform at the same level as white people. This social perception conditioned Delano to ignore any idea that the slaves had overthrown the Spanish sailors on the San Dominick. Also, authority was highly respected at this time. It was customary for authority figures to be trusted under all circumstances. Delano didnt question Cerenos actions and authority on Cerenos ship because doing so would be disrespectful to authority. Social conditioning lead to Delanos obtuseness about what happened on the San Dominick. Due to social perceptions and norms, Delano almost suffered a revolt and the same fate as Cereno.
Unlike the lawyer in Bartleby the Scrivener, Delanos consequences to his actions could have been more detrimental than anything the lawyer had to deal with. The lawyers life was never threated by Bartleby, only inconvenienced. Captain Delanos life was more threatened by his ignorance, complicity with the system, and his final inability to understand Cerenos shadows of clues.