Get help from the best in academic writing.

Comparing Billy Budd and the Life of Melville

Parallels Between Billy Budd and the Life of Melville

As with many great works of literature, it is important to become familiar with the author’s life and time period in which he or she lived. This understanding helps to clarify the significance and meaning of his or her work. In many ways, Billy Budd depicts issues of importance to Herman Melville with both direct and indirect parallels to the time of the Civil War and to particular individuals of Melville’s life. Important to the creation of Billy Budd were the war, current politics, slavery, and even the assassination of President Lincoln. This essay intends to identify the analogous relationship between these incidences and the particular individuals of Melville’s life that inspired him to write Billy Budd.

Melville seems to have lived a life that was inevitably centered around war and politics. His grandparents were fighters during the Revolutionary War and Melville was of age 42 when the Civil War erupted. Melville also spent a large part of his life as a sailor. Although he never participated in the war in any official capacity, we see evidence of how the Civil War was of glaring significance in his life by examining Billy Budd and most of his other works.

Politics were an important factor in the life of Herman Melville. Although he was known to never vote, he held tenaciously to his socio-political opinions. During that time, it was common for politics to be a big topic of family discussion as common political beliefs were strengtheners of the American family. Around then, major dissension existed between the Democrats and the Republicans. Also, families lived and behaved according to a particular faction’s ideals. The Melville family generally shared the …

… middle of paper …

…lways. Melville was slowly saying “goodbye” to his sailorman days. His hopes that the world would view advancement in the destructive way he perceived it to be were shattered. As The Civil War World mentioned the parallel, “like the death of Billy Budd in Herman’s last romance, it takes its significance from the mystery of life, from the existential beauty of youth in its heedless and vigorous dreamlike march toward its starry end,” Melville died with his goal unreached, despite his attempts to communicate to Americans through creative literature. Herman Melville’s Billy Budd offers us insightful thoughts about the struggle between good vs. evil, Christ vs. Satan, subordination vs. insubordination, advancement vs. stagnation and manages to correlate them all in one novel.

Works Cited:

Melville, Herman. Billy Budd and Other Tales. New York: Signet – NAL, 1961.

Herman Melville’s Billy Budd as Allegory of Good versus Evil

Herman Melville’s Billy Budd as Allegory of Good versus Evil

Herman Melville’s Billy Budd relates an allegory of innocence versus evil by symbolizing Billy Budd, John Claggart, and Captain Vere as Jesus Christ, Lucifer, and God.

The protagonist in the novel is Billy Budd. The experiences that Billy undergoes throughout the novel parallel what Jesus Christ endured in his life. Melville characterizes Billy Budd as an innocent man physically and mentally. The first feature sailors would notice about Billy were his schoolboy features, with blond hair and blue eyes. His suave looks caused some people to refer to him as “the handsome sailor”(16). Most often sailors were scurvy men, quite often with diseases, who made no effort to uphold a handsome appearance. With his tanned complexion and sound build he resembles Hercules, one of the flawless Greek Gods of mythology (17). Billy’s full name is William, but the sailors felt that the childish name, Billy, was more appropriate. Commonly only young innocent boys hold the name Billy, but the sailors see the man as an innocent boy. Billy’s innocence sparked the Dankser to give Billy a nickname because “…whether in freak of patriarchal irony touching Billy’s youth and athletic frame or for some other and more recondite reason, from the first in addressing him he [the Dansker] always substituted ‘Baby’ for ‘Billy'”(35). The characteristics aforementioned verify Billy’s innocent nature, just as Jesus Christ held the same innocent disposition. After Billy’s capture from the Rights of Man, by impressment, he shows no remorse toward his old captain and shipmates for not protecting him. Billy, as well as Jesus, cannot hold a because their innocent nature renders them incapable …

… middle of paper …

…t pay for his sin. To abide by the law, Vere tells the jury “The prisoner’s deed – with that alone we have to do”(69). When the jury convicts Billy, as they were strongly swayed by Vere, Captain Vere takes it upon himself to tell Billy of his demise. Melville does not touch on the scene much, but it is a warm sentimental scene with Vere acting as Billy’s father and consoling him. Captain Vere symbolically stands as God.

The classic battle between the righteous and the reprobate comes alive with symbolism in Herman Melville’s allegory Billy Budd, with Billy Budd, John Claggart, and Captain Vere being portrayed as Jesus Christ, Lucifer, and God.

Works Cited

Chase, Richard. Herman Melville: A Critical Study. New York: Hafner Publishing Company, 1971.

Melville, Herman. Billy Budd, Sailor and Other Stories. Ed. Frederick Busch. New York: Penguin, 1986.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.