With its intense mix of mystery, adventure, and a surprise ending, Benito Cereno at first seems merely a provocative example from the genre Herman Melville created with his early best-selling novels of the sea. However, most Melville scholars consider it his most sophisticated work, and many, such as novelist Ralph Ellison, have hailed it as the most piercing look at slavery in all of American literature.
Benito Cereno is a novella by Herman Melville. It was first serialized in Putnam's Monthly in 1855 and later included a slightly revised version in his collection The Piazza Tales (1856). In developing the novella, Melville drew almost exclusively on the memoir of the real Captain Amasa Delano, whom Melville depicts as the main protagonist and focal character. Delano recounts how in 1805, his vessel Perseverance encountered the Spanish Tryal (not to be confused with the 17th-century British Tryall), a ship whose slaves had overthrown the Spanish sailors. The narrative of events in the novel closely follows the actual event.
Climbing the side, the visitor was at once surrounded by a clamorous throng of whites and blacks, but the latter outnumbering the former more than could have been expected, Negro transportation-ship as the stranger in port was.