Freedom and Slavery. Option D
In the current essay the radio program on the theme Freedom and Slavery (n.d.) will be discussed. Greg Grandin examines the nature of freedom and bondage in his work The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World and speculates about these themes in the radio program.
He uses the historical events described in the novel Benito Cereno by Herman Melville to make broader conclusions about the nature of freedom. However, his speech touches not only the problems of liberty and slavery of the Africans. He also investigates into the personality of a typical American man of the Enlightenment Age, captain Delano.
The story is based on the slave rebellion on the merchant Spanish ship back in 1805 and it is peculiar because the events took place not in the Atlantic, which is closely associated with the slave trade, but in the Pacific. The black slaves from the Western coast of Africa killed all Spaniards during the uprising and left only the captain Benito Cereno alive. The captain was not killed for several reasons. First, he was the guarantee that the ship will somehow pass the Pacific ocean. Second, if the other ship will see them and the captain will ask them for help, they might certainly receive that help without the possibility to become enslaved one more time.
The uprising itself was not a strange thing in the history of slave trade. There were hundreds of such incidents. The scenario of what happened next after the uprising was really strange and worth of mentioning in the fiction. After the ship was sailing in the calm waters of the Chillian coast for almost fifty days, the slaves decided to ask another ship that was passing by for help. Their own captain Benito Cereno refused to pass the ocean, because there were no chances that they would be alive. When the New English ship passes near them, the slaves and Cereno ask Amasa Delano, the captain of the Bachelor’s Delight, to help them. All slaves decided to act as if they were not free, but as if they continued to be slaves who do not know what it is like to live without masters.
Those slaves managed to pretend during eight hours under extremely difficult conditions, when some of them were dying from thirst and hunger. Though, the most interesting person in the narration is the personal slave of captain Cereno, Mori, who was the secret leader of the black rebels. His personality is rather dubious. From one point of view, he is trying to free all his people and return back to Africa. From another point of view, he made a mistake when he wanted to capture the ship of Delano, which was his inability to cease his emotions. After such mistake all blacks were enslaved one more time by Delano’s crew.
The novel deals with two separate stories. The first one is the story of the West African slaves and the story of Amasa Delano, who himself is the personification of the upcoming American revolutions and the typical American of the age of Enlightenment. It is better to start from the personality of captain Delano to understand the attitude towards the African slaves in that time. First of all, he was in general against the slavery, but did not think about it as the big problem. Fighting for the ideals of revolution was the thing that marked the adult life of Delano, but he still did not think that the Negroes slaves were worth that freedom. Despite the fact that such people as Amasa Delano were morally opposed to slavery, and thought that every person was created by God to be free, they regarded the human trafficking as the tradition. The usual logi of thinking was similar to the idea “who am I to break that tradition, perhaps, it was created on the basis of the real need”. He participated in the uprisings of the Chileans who wanted to gain independence from the United States, but despite this he did not think that there was something wrong in killing the black slaves on the ship.
Gardin emphasizes in his radio speech that the Age of Enlightenment introduced a kind of a paradox into history. From one perspective, it was the time when the ideas that all people were born free gained popularity. It was the hymn of individual liberty and destruction of social bonds of traditions. From another perspective, only the most progressive part of the society was sharing the ideals of the humanism. It was traditionally thought that the black people are less intellectually developed than the white nation, and as the result they should be treated as small children in the paternalistic way. A peculiar issue was that people thought that slavery is in the nature of the black people. They were just born to be slaves, as the white people were born to be their masters. Such idea can be also found in the novel of Herman Melville. The crew of the New English ship under the rule of captain Delano saw the slaves without masters on the ship near the Chilean coast, they did not even think that something was wrong in that situation. Those people were not able even to imagine that the Negroes can live as free people without their masters. Being servants is in their nature. Captain Delano even laughs at the servant of captain Cereno, Mori, who is so dedicated to his master, that he does not leave him alone even for a minute. A simple thought that a black slave can frighten and terrorize the white aristocrat seemed to be impossible for the person of the Enlightenment Era. He even asks Cereno to sell him such a good servant, and he says it in the presence of the discussed black servant. The personality of the Negro cost nothing in that time, and such assumption somehow correlated with the libertarian points of view that dominated the progressive society of the end of the 19th century.
Another interesting theme that is mentioned in the story of Gardin is the destruction of nature and the destruction of human dignity. These problems are the ones that worry Delano. He is quite cynical about the religion and in fact he has nothing to rely on in his life. When he does not manage to earn much money on sailing, killing the whales and the business of similar kinds, he becomes frustrated. His debts grow and he does not seem to understand how to gain control over his own destiny. He did not believe in God to think that everything is in His hands. He did not believe in fate, because he thought that he was the only one to make the free choices. Amaso Delano tried to think about the salvation of his soul first, but then he remembered that the existence of the soul is the fiction, just as the existence of God.
All these aspects make Delano the person who has nothing to believe. His ideals are fake, he does not fully understand liberty and at the same time he has lost the traditional way of thinking. The uprising on the ship showed that the concepts of slavery and freedom were still unchanged in the age of Enlightenment, but it was the beginning of the revolution of thoughts.
n.d. (2014). Freedom and Slavery. Web. 12 May 2007. <http://www.againstthegrain.org/program/938/mon-60214-freedom-and-slavery>.