BILLY BUDD

Brandon AndersonPeriod 010/11/96BILLY BUDDBefore the Fall, Adam and Eve were perfect. They were innocent and ignorant, yet perfect, so they were allowed to abide in the presence of God. Once they partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, however, they immediately became unclean as well as mortal. In Billy Budd, the author, Herman Melville, presents a question that stems directly from this original sin of our first parents: Is it better to be innocent and ignorant, but good and righteous, or is it better to be experienced and knowledgeable? I believe that through this book, Melville is telling us that we need to strike some kind of balance between these two ideas; we need to have morality and virtue; we need to be in the world, but not of the world.To illustrate his theme, Melville uses a few characters who are all very different, the most important of which is Billy Budd.

Billy is the focal point of the book and the single person whom we are meant to learn the most from. On the ship, the Rights-of-Man, Billy is a cynosure among his shipmates; a leader, not by authority, but by example. All the members of the crew look up to him and love him. He is “strength and beauty. Tales of his prowess are recited. Ashore he is the champion, afloat the spokesman; on every suitable occasion always foremost”(9). Despite his popularity among the crew and his hardworking attitude, Billy is transferred to another British ship, the Indomitable.

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And while he is accepted for his looks and happy personality, “hardly here is he that cynosure he had previously been among those minor ships companies of the merchant marine”(14). It is here, on the Indomitable that Billy says good-bye to his rights. It is here, also, that Billy meets John Claggart, the master-at-arms. A man “in whom was the mania of an evil nature, not engendered by vicious training or corrupting books or licentious living but born with him and innate, in short a depravity according to nature”(38). Here then, is presented a man with a personality and character to contrast and conflict with Billys. Sweet, innocent Billy immediately realizes that this man is someone he does not wish to cross and so after seeing Claggart whip another crew-member for neglecting his responsibilities, Billy “resolved that never through remissness would he make himself liable to such a visitation or do or omit aught that might merit even verbal reproof”(31).

Billy is so good and so innocent that he tries his hardest to stay out of trouble. “What then was his surprise and concern when ultimately he found himself getting into petty trouble occasionally about such matters as the stowage of his bagwhich brought down on him a vague threat from one of the ships corporals”(31). These small threats and incidents establish the tension between Claggart and Billy, and set the stage for a later confrontation. They also force Billy to search for help. The person he goes to is yet another type of character presented in this book. Red Whiskers. Red Whiskers was an old veteran, “long anglicized in the service, of few words, many wrinkles, and some honorable scars”(31). Billy recognizes the old Dansker as a figure of experience, and after showing respect and courtesy which Billy believes due to his elder, finally seeks his advice, but what he is told thoroughly astonishes him.

Red Whiskers tells Billy that for some reason, Claggart is after Billy, but Billy cannot believe it because he is so innocent and trusting. Through this situation Billy now finds himself in, Melville has us ask ourselves a question: Would it be right for Billy to heed the advice of experience and wisdom and tell the captain about Claggarts conspiracy? Or should he instead keep his mouth shut and try to work things out himself? Being the good person that he is, Billy tries to forget about it and hopes that it will pass, but it does not. And that is where the fourth of these few characters comes in.

Captain Vere, with his love for knowledge and books, and ” his settled convictions which stood as a dike against those invading waters of novel opinion, social, political, and otherwise, which carried away as in a torrent no few minds in those days, minds by nature not inferior to his own”(25-26). Vere is a man who believes in rules, regulations, and procedure. In his opinion, everything must be done according to instruction, and deviation from that set way of thinking and operation is wrong. This way of thinking is illustrated as Melville commits what he calls a “literary sin”:In this matter of writing, resolve as one may to keep to the main road, some bypaths have an enticement not readily to be withstood. I am going to err into such a bypath.

If the reader will keep me company I shall be glad. At the least we can promise ourselves that pleasure which is wickedly said to be in sinning, for a literary sin the divergence will be. (20)Because of his philosophy, Captain Vere always strives to do that which he believes to be right according to the laws set by his superior officers. This is a stark contrast to Billy, who keeps quiet when he learns about a conspiracy to mutiny among the crew on board.In the books climax, Claggart comes to Captain Vere and accuses Billy of conspiring to mutiny. Billy, so astonished by Claggarts allegation, strikes him dead with one blow to the head. In an effort to uphold military law and regulation, Captain Vere holds a trial in which he manipulates the reluctant court into convicting Billy and sentencing him to death. But his death was not agonizing or tortuous.

It was instead, majestic. “At the same moment it chanced that the vapory fleece hanging low in the East was shot through with a soft glory as of the fleece of the Lamb of God seen in mystical vision, and simultaneously therewith, watched by the wedged mass of upturned faces, Billy ascended, and, ascending, took the full rose of the dawn”(80). Such glory and beauty in death can only be achieved by those who are truly ready and without regret, as Billy was. The question, then, is presented. Innocence or wisdom? Which philosophy, which way of life is more correct? Claggart, who represents the natural evil in the world, serves as the opposition and corruption which we face everyday. He is the obstacle that Billy must deal with, and the way in which he confronts that obstacle determines which of these answers is the correct one. Melville, in presenting the climax of the book, might be suggesting that it would have been better for Billy to have chosen the path of experience and wisdom, like old Red Whiskers, for if he had, he would still be alive. However, I believe that through this allusion to Christs crucifixion, he is showing us that perhaps we should not always only be concerned about ourselves, but also about those around us.

Perhaps that through morals and virtue, we can rise above the evil in the world and make an impact on the lives of those around us. The newspaper article near the end of the book portrays this perfectly. It brands Billy as a traitor, but his shipmates will not have it so. They kept track of the spar from which he was hanged until it becomes a ” mere dock-yard boom. To them a chip of it was as a piece of the Cross”(87). The legend of Billys innocence will not die, and it changes the lives of the sailors forever. I believe Melville is saying that true goodness, aspersed by a Satanic Claggart, and doomed to death by a perplexed but upright Vere, even dead, is better than all the wisdom and experience of the world because it exists after death, and therefore triumphs.Category: English

Billy Budd

There is much to be said about innocence. If one is with innocence than one can do no wrong. But that is not all to be said.

Innocence is not always a good thing. It could make one naive or blind to certain evils. Like in the case of Billy Budd. Billy was innocent from evil and therefore could not see the evil of John Claggart approaching him, out to destroy him. It is known Billy’s innocence was his down fall by hiding the true evil from his eyes. But why was John Claggart out to destroy Billy?. There are several reasons why John Claggart attempts to destroy Billy Budd.John Claggart wants to destroy Billy because he is extremely wary of Billy’s intentions.

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He has come to believe that Billy is planning a mutiny and wants to take over the ship. Claggart reports this to captain Vere saying,” During today’s chase and possible encounter I had seen enough to convince him that at least one sailor aboard was dangerous.” Meaning that he felt Billy was against them. Claggart felt that Billy’s big plan was to get in favor of all the men on the ship and then turn them against the captain. Captain Vere responds by having Billy and Claggart meet in private where Claggart can openly accuse Billy of this crime. Fortunately, Claggarts attempt to destroy Billy for mutiny fails because he is struck down by Billy in one blow, ending the matter, but opening a much more serious one. Claggart is also seen as attempting to destroy Billy due to his evil nature in general. Nothing depicts Claggart’s evil nature better than the way he looks.

His cleanly chiseled chin and cunning violet eyes that can cut lesser sailors with an evil glare. His pale yellow skin and jet black curly hair; they all contrast his character. He is out to destroy Billy because of the constant struggle of good and evil.

Billy is innocent and cannot comprehend evil therefore making him good. People calling Billy “baby budd, and handsome sailor” just seem to contrast the good in him even more. Claggart was born evil and therefore is evil. Claggart would naturally be out to destroy Billy because he is what he is against. Just good vs.

evil in a battle for control. That is why Claggart is naturally out to bring the downfall of Billy Budd.It is very true that jealousy is another reason why John Claggart wanted the destruction of Billy Budd. Claggart was never well liked by the crew he was watching over. This would not have been a problem except that Billy Budd was so very liked by the crew. Every time he saw the love of Billy he was reminded of the dislike of himself.

One old sailor on the ship noticed this too and warned Billy by saying, “Jimmy Leggs is down on you”. Jimmy Leggs referring to Claggart. One instance which occured in the kitchen just made matters worse when Billy spilled the soup he was making and it ran down the corridor just as Claggart was walking by. Claggart did not openly get angry at Billy for the accident, but inside felt he had done it on purpose.

As the soup ran down the corridor it seemed to symbolize an actual line drawn between the two. The resentment Claggart felt for Billy made him look him too critically. That is a good reason why Claggart could have thought Billy was planning a mutiny and would want him destroyed. He was just jealous of Billy’s popularity.

There are several reasons why John Claggart attempts to destroy Billy Budd. One might ask why and come up with the obvious and not so obvious answer, even though we know the real reason for his downfall. That was his innocence. Yes, Billy Budd was innocent of evil, but that innocence is what made him unable to see the evil out to destroy him in Claggart. Too much innocence is not always a good thing, but a little helps from doing wrong.

There is quite a bit to be said about innocence.

Billy Budd

War shapes all moral trajectories in this story in many ways. War defines peace and tragedy due to the use and action of disagreement. In Billy Budd, (The movie), Billy ended up getting hung because he was accused of killing a member on the H.M.

S. Indomitable. While these men were on the ship, they had certain rights that were stated under the Articles Of War.

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Each individual was punished under these statements. Ratcliff states, Go find the captain and report to him the winds abeam. Respectfully suggest we ought to take in topsails. (Coxe and Chapman page 46). This quote relates to the suffering that these sailors have to deal with while they are out to sea at war. They have to respect the captains orders at all times otherwise they will be punished. This kind of life that they are going through is kind of ridiculous because its so dull and boring.

I would hate to be treated like that because it makes you fell miserable.ODaniel states, Ah, I do love to see two Englishmen fighting each other. Its fonder they are of killing themselves than fighting their proper foes. (Laughs hoarsely) (Coxe and Chapman page 13) The meaning of this quote has to do with the presence of a fight. The main object of war is fighting. If ODaniel was a good man than he shouldnt even bring up this statement because he is heating up conflict. I think that he has some inner problems because he tends to be a little stubborn with others.

I think that this quote that Billy states is rather fascinating because it has a lot of meaning to it. Id rather be buried at sea than on the beach, when I come to die. Will you stand by the plank, Tom, So Ill shake a friendly hand before I sink? Oh! But its dead Ill be then, come to think! (All Laugh) (Coxe and Chapman page 29) Billy is telling the readers in this quote that he really doesnt care if he dies or not because he knows that he did the right thing. When he killed the man, he knew in his heart that he had to do what he had to do. He would rather be buried at sea than at the beach because at least he knows that he would be dead somewhere where he feels that he did the right thing in his power.

He is the type of person who doesnt care what others think of him. When he killed the man, he probably didnt feel sorry for him, because like War things happen the way that we intend to want them to. For example, if someone has a gun and they want to kill you, you have to do something in your power to defend yourself. Thats exactly what Billy did, he Defended himself. If the Articles Of War made any sense, they shouldnt of killed Billy Budd because he was defending himself. The last quote that I chose from this play has a special meaning to the readers in a way because it emphasizes the characters feelings.

When the Butler quotes Hes dead, aint he? Better off than us. (Coxe and Chapman page 27) He seems to be feeling a sense of hurt and anger. It must be tough for them to be on this ship twenty-four hours a day because they have to deal with the same people all day.When Billy died, it was a tragedy for the whole crew, well maybe with an exception of Captain Vere.

If it wasnt for war, I think that these men including Billy would have had a good time. I guess Im trying to say that WAR defines death. Most likely when you hear about a war that has occurred, chances are that somebody passed away (obviously).The Butler has a sense of disappointment in his voice when he says that the dead are better off than he is. That implies that he hates the way that his life is headed. When a person compares the dead as being better than their own life that means that they are in a big sense of Grief.

In Conclusion, I would like to say that this play has many Morals to it. You cant be accused as guilty for something that you did when you were only trying to save your own life. I really looked up to Billy throughout the story because he had a lot of self-esteem in himself. He is the only character that would not listen to what anybody had to say he did things his own way. Most important of all, He didnt let War come in between his life while he was learning how to become a man, and I give him a lot of credit for that.

We as humans have to realize that war can alsobe a good thing because it necessarily doesnt have to be a bad thing all the time. Without having war in the past, we wouldnt be where we are today and also, we wouldnt be at peace with other nations just like we are with them now.

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