In this novel, Billy Budd, Melville acts as a “Creator”, in that he gives Billy Budd certain superhuman qualities, which allows him to posses the traits of a servant of God. Billy Budd appears Christ-like, because of his peace-making abilities. Although, he is a peacemaker whom will fight for what he believes in and to keep peace.
In the beginning of the novel, when Red Whiskers gives Billy Budd problems, he strikes him with a powerful blow and does not have any more problems with him or the crew again. Melville then foreshadows how Billy will use the same tactics the next time he runs into a bully like Red Whiskers. It seems ironic of the names of the ships as we go along in the story. Billy Budd goes from the Rights-of-Man to Bellipotent, it seems then he makes a change like a minister being ordained to a Bishop. Bellipotent signifies a good ship, in that belli- means kind, and -potent means strong and powerful. Melville seems to want his audience to think of the ships as Christ-like symbols also. As in another story, Young Goodman Brown by Hawthorne, a young man is too eager to meet his destiny. Billy Budd is not at the least hesitant, when Lieutenant Ratcliffe wants him for service to King George Ill. Billy Budd goes from a peaceful merchant ship, to a ship at war, full of guns and military discipline. Melville is suggesting here that Billy will most like endure many problems and hardships entering this service. Billy Budd acts as the foretopman on this ship, which leads the audience to wonder is he doing it out of the grace of God, to make a change on the ship, or is he toying with fate.
At the time this novel took place, wars were going on, which was later called the Great Mutiny (a time when sailors rebelled against their own). That explains most of the story Melville is attempting to display. Melville introduces Captain Vere as a dedicated officer who only permits obedience to duty and is very strict with discipline. The author has already foreshadowed many things for the audience. He lets us see how Billy is bound to run into a confrontation with at least one shipmate, and may possibly be accused of mutiny, since the thoughts are already on many officers’ minds.
Billy Budd Essays: Three Main Characters
Billy Budd: Three Main Characters
Billy Budd, a 19th century novel written by Herman Melville, involves three main characters: Billy Budd, John Claggart and Captain Vere. In the beginning of the novel, Melville portrays each character with distinct personality; Billy Budd is represented as the simple-minded sailor, Claggart is viewed as the villain, and Captain Vere is seen as the honorable superior of the ship. As the novel develops, the earlier images of these characters are contradicted as previously unseen traits of each character are revealed.
John Claggart represents the epitome of a demon-haunted man. In chapter twenty, Melville carefully describes the change in Claggart’s twisted figure as he speaks to Billy with a “hypnotic stare” of his charge against the handsome sailor. His image initially was of “a serpent fascination;” however, his facial expression corrodes as he reveals his anger and antipathy toward Billy face to face. First, his eyes change their color from a “wonted rich violet” to a “muddy purple.” Melville even portrays him almost as a non-human being, an “alien eyes of an uncatalogued creature.” Furthermore, as opposed to his initial image, Melville compares the man to a “hungry lurch of the torpedo-fish.” Melville deliberately transforms Claggart’s demonic trait to a more extreme level.
Billy Budd plays a role of a good-hearted and simple peacemaker. His winsome looks and innocent nature wins the loyalty of many sailors except for John Claggart. During Billy’s brief moment of his stay in Captain Vere’s cabin, one can see that his angelic image morphs into an image of a deadly creature. When John Claggart shocks Billy with the accusation of being involved in a rebellious group, Billy becomes “impaled, struck by white leprosy.” He is dumbfounded and tongue-tied as if the hypnosis- ***Hypnotist?***Claggart – had actually mesmerized him into blocking his ability to speak. Captain Vere even urges Billy to defend himself; however, one knows for a fact that Billy’s main weakness is his inability to speak out in such situation. Melville also compares Billy to an old schoolmate of Captain Vere. Just like the young schoolmate, Billy shrinks into a helpless child, struggling to spit out a word. That moment of helplessness is broken when Billy slashes out with a cannonball punch at Claggart. Instantaneously, Billy’s image of a good-natured sailor is replaced by the image of a manslayer. It is that unexpected transformation in Billy’s nature which puts his life on trial.