Herman Melville’s Billy Budd is a classic tale of good and evil. Good is constantly attacked by evil – until good falters. Through the use of many literary devices, Melville makes a compelling story and develops his theme. He shows that the good and righteous will triumph over evil at the end, even when the evil is death.
The protagonist, Billy Budd, is the major force of good in the book. Billy is a young man who seems to have everything going for him. He is big, strong, handsome, and he has a personality that draws everyone to him. Everywhere he goes, he charms people, gaining the respect of those around him. A great deal of imagery is used in describing how aesthetically perfect Billy is. ***Give an example of this from the text*** Besides Billy’s stutter, he seems absolutely perfect. Billy is a sailor. His original ship was the Rights-Of-Man, but he is later impressed by the Bellipotent and he becomes a foretop man. As usual, he charms everyone. They even call him “The Handsome Sailor.” On the ship, Billy is respected by everyone except the protagonist, John Claggart.
Claggart is extremely jealous and holds a considerable amount of contempt for him. ***What is the relationship between Billy and Claggart?*** At first he tries to be nice to Billy, but soon his true jealousies surface. He begins to scold Billy for insignificant lapses and tries to degrade him. In one instance when Billy spills a bowl of soup, Claggart sardonically says to Billy, “Handsome is as handsome did it Deep inside, Claggart also thinks that Billy is secretly plotting against him. When his madness really begins to take over, Claggart starts thinking of ways to prove Billy to be a traitor. Finally, his chance comes when a guardsman approaches Billy in the middle of the night and asks him to join a mutiny effort with all the others that were impressed. The guardsman also offers Billy a bribe. Billy becomes so angry that he almost throws the guardsman overboard. When Claggart hears of this, he immediately runs straight to Captain Vere. Captain Vere is a well-educated, level-headed man. He is stern but just. He offers Billy a chance to see his accuser and Billy accepts. When Billy hears the lies that were being told of him, he goes crazy.
Essay on the Dilemma of Billy Budd
The Dilemma of Billy Budd
Herman Mellville’s Billy Budd is and extremely divisive novel when one considers the dissension it has generated. The criticism has essentially focused around the argument of acceptance vs. resistance. On the one hand we can read the story as accepting the hanging of Billy Budd as the necessary ends of justice. We can read Vere’s condemnation as a necessary military action performed in the name of preserving order aboard the Indomitable. On the other hand, we can argue that Billy’s execution as the greatest example of injustice.
The question has been asked if Vere’s conduct is right or wrong. In either case, since Billy Budd is an ethical text, it is very odd that there is an absence of the emotion guilt. Billy Budd is a story about two murders. Billy kills Claggart and Vere (although indirectly, the decision is ultimately his) kills Budd. Neither of the murderers demonstrate guilt in the form of remorse. For a narrative that tries to put the reader in a moral and ethical position, it is ironic that the characters themselves don’t exhibit what would seem most ethical.
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… To read the story as either accepting or resisting an ethical dilemma is perhaps debatable. The point of the story may be to state man’s need to punish and retaliate with injury through means that may be befogged. The reader may be upset with the death of Billy Budd not for the seemingly unjust killing of a sympathetic character, but for its illustration of a society coming apart at the seams; one which doesn’t necessarily make sense considering human nature, but one that is so closely linked to social systems, it is doubtful that it could ever be changed.