Benito Cereno by Herman Melville
In many stories, the main characters carry the plot of a story throughout the book. The author often expresses the message that he desires the reader to receive through their thoughts and actions. Yet, the minor characters often have a large affect on the outcome of the book, although it is not quite as obvious to the reader. By altering the thoughts or actions of the main characters, a seemingly minor player in a novel may actually, at closer examination, be an important player in the plot. In the short story Benito Cereno, by Herman Melville, the minor character, Atufal, largely influenced Captain Delano, who is a main character. Delano’s assessments and opinions aboard the Spanish ship were greatly affected by Atufal, which therefore had an effect on the plot and ending of the story.
Captain Delano began to suspect that something on the ship was irregular, and then an incident with Atufal put all of his rightful suspicions to rest. Atufal, a minor character in the novel, led Captain Delano to become confused about what was truly happening aboard the San Dominick. As Delano first boarded the ship, he noticed several incidents that did not seem quite right. For example, he witnessed a young Negro boy hit a young white boy over the head with a knife (159), receiving no reaction from other people on the ship. Because he assumed that the whites were in control of the ship, Delano thought that it was quite strange that none of the Spaniards were upset by this disrespect of a white boy by a Negro. Atufal was brought out on the deck of the ship in front of Benito Cereno to ask his pardon. The “prisoner” Atufal refused to do so, and he was returned into captivity. Captain Delano viewed this situation to be somewhat unjust. “What, pray, was Atufal’s offense . . . if it was not something serious . . . remit him of his penalty”(163). Delano felt sympathy towards the Negro, and questioned Don Cereno as to why he was treating the slave with such cruelty. Atufal’s performance caused Delano to believe that Cereno was in control of the happenings on the boat, and that his prior concerns about the role of the Negroes on the San Dominick should be put to rest.
Delano did not do much more than shortly entertain the idea...