To anyone who knows the secret of "Benito Cereno"—and even to those that don't—the unfolding of its mystery may seem painfully slow. The summary above cannot do justice to Melville's prose, which is paced rather slow and methodically, much like Captain Delano's mind. The strange incidents begin to pile up: the young back slave hitting the white boy without any reprimand from Cereno, the Spanish sailors seeming to motion to him, the whispering between Cereno and Babo, and the two blacks knocking down the sailor. Yet each time, Delano's trusting nature causes him to dismiss his suspicions.
It is difficult to determine whether Delano is too trusting, or not trusting enough. If Delano were more willing to let his suspicions get the best of him, or if he were a more suspicious person in general, he might have figured out what was going on before the end of the story. But as the reader later finds out, had Delano found out the truth about the slaves and tried to act, he almost certainly would have been caught by Babo and killed on the spot. By being so trusting, Delano falls for the hastily-arranged scam that Babo concocts, and this allows Cereno to survive until he can leap down into Delano's boat.
But, as mentioned earlier, Melville unfolds his plot very slowly. Some readers may become frustrated with Delano as he repeatedly witnesses strange events, then dismisses them time and again. Literary critic Warner Berthoff has likened "Benito Cereno" to the telling of a riddle: it must be told once, so the listener has a chance to figure it out; and once figured out, the listener goes over the riddle again, to make sure his or her answer fits all the parts of the riddle. The strange incidents that Delano witnesses are the clues to the riddle, the answer is so surprising that Delano never really figures it out. To a nineteenth-century man, even one from a liberal state like Massachusetts, the idea of a group of slaves revolting, then coming up with such a complicated ruse to fool a ship's captain, would have been a very far-fetched idea indeed. Melville's readers would have been just as mystified by the strange events as Delano.
It is notable that Delano does little to intervene with the strange things he encounters. He accepts Cereno's odd, often rude manners with little reproach, if any. Whenever a black strikes a white man, he points it out to Cereno, but he doesn't do anything about it himself. Delano and the Lawyer of "Bartleby the Scrivener" are actually similar characters. They are both relatively intelligent, established, well-balanced men who are exposed to a number of very odd events and behaviors. They remain contemplative where most men would immediately question these events vigorously, or take immediate action. Few lawyers would retain a copyist that refused to examine his copies, and few captains would ever allow a black slave to strike a white man without punishment, no matter what the ship's actual captain did. But despite their contemplation, both Delano and the Lawyer are thwarted in their attempts to discover the truth. Delano only finds it when Cereno leaps into his boat and reveals that the blacks are actually in control of the ship; the Lawyer never really finds out the truth about Bartleby. By remaining so passive in their observations, both Delano and the Lawyer are unable to reach the knowledge they are so earnestly searching for.