Billy Budd’s Biblical Connections Essay, Research Paper
Billy Budd?s Biblical Connections
This book report is about Billy Budd, by Herman Melville. It was Melville?s final novel, and was published in 1924, over 30 years after his death. Billy Budd is a basic battle of good and evil, with evil deceiving good, and good taking the final victory. But the unusual twist put into this story, is the fate of common law. The main theme for Billy Budd is that society corrupts the innocent.
The main story line of Billy Budd starts with a sailor named Billy Budd serving on a merchant ship, The Rights of Man, in the Atlantic Ocean, on the European coast, in 1797. While sailing, the ship is halted by a British man of war ship, H.M.S. Bellipotent, in need of men. Only one of the sailors on board the merchant ship decides to take a navy sailing job: Billy Budd. Aboard the navy ship, Billy takes the job as foretopman. He quickly makes friends with all his shipmates.
The plot involves mainly two other characters: the captain of the ship, ?Starry? Vere, and the ship?s master-at-arms, Claggart. Captain Vere is a quiet, fair, and experienced naval officer, while Claggart seems outwardly decent, but rally is malevolent and downright mean.
Captain Vere becomes somewhat of a father figure to Billy. He is sympathetic to the poor sailor, whose parents abandoned him at birth.
Meanwhile, Claggart is nice to Billy at first, but becomes jealous of Billy?s innocence and perfect image. He seems pleased of Billy?s actions at first, but then severely scorns Billy for small errors, such as accidentally spilling his soup on the deck. A corporal named Squeak, who reports false information to him about Billy, fuels Claggart?s displeasure of him.
Then, one night Billy is awakened by a guard who takes him to a spot on the ship where he is asked to join a group of sailors that are planning a mutiny. He offers Billy a bribe to join the uprising. Billy is outraged by this offer to the point off stuttering. He threatens to throw the guard off the ship. The guard disappears. This incident disturbs Billy, but he is unable to see the reason that ?they? came exclusively to him. He does not realize that the guard was a pawn told by Claggart to offer Billy a chance at mutiny to try to get Billy in trouble.
Billy shows his loyalty to the country by not accepting the bribe. But it also angered Claggart even more, because by not accepting the bribe, it showed off Billy?s innocence and faultless image. A small battle with a French ship occurs soon after. When the battle is over, Claggart tells Captain Vere that he suspects a mutiny being plotted, and that one unnamed sailor is suspected of plotting a mutiny, and acted strangely during the battle. Vere interrupts Claggart and demands the name of the ?dangerous man aboard.? Claggart replies, ?William Budd.? (Billy Budd, pp 56-57)
Of course the captain does not believe the allegations, but calls a meeting between Billy, Claggart, and himself. In this meeting, Claggart states the allegations to Billy?s face. Billy is angered by the statements, and again can not do anything but stutter to his defense. When he is over his impediment, instead of speaking to his defense, he lashes out his fist to Claggart, striking him dead. Now the captain is torn between his duty to the law, and toe compassion he feels toward Billy. He decides to call the officers together for a makeshift court. They find Billy guilty and he hangs at dawn the next day. His last words are ?God bless Captain Vere!? (Billy Budd, pp 82)
After Billy is buried at sea, the Bellipotent has a run in with a French ship. In this battle, Captain Vere is gravely wounded. His last words are ?Billy Budd, Billy Budd.? (Billy Budd, pp 88) Mean while on the ship, the sailors, who deeply admired Billy, keep the spar from which Billy was hanged as a monument, and treat it like a piece of the Cross. They know that Billy is not guilty of murder, or mutiny. Billy?s spirit seems to live on with the fellow sailors.
The main three characters, Billy Budd, Captain Vere, and Claggart, fit into the theme of good (innocent) versus evil (deceptive, instigating) and society corrupting the innocent. Billy represents the good and innocent character, while Claggart represents the evil, deceptive force. In a Biblical sense, Claggart could represent the devil in a man costume, Billy, man, Vere as God, the ship represents the world, or society, and the merchant ship represented heaven.
Billy, as man, came from heaven, perfect, into a world where evil lurked. The devil is said to put on a good deceptive face at first to draw one into trust, or admiration, just as Claggart did at first. Billy trusted and did not think bad of Claggart at first. But he failed to see the evil in him, just as man does not often see the evil in many bad situations, until it is too late. When Billy was drawn into a fatal situation, he felt he was into deep, and struck down the devil the wrong way, through murder. Vere, as a God-like figure, felt compassion for man (Billy), but had to punish him through society, which calls for a much stricter punishment, by hanging. The captain had a moral duty to the law to punish Billy. Billy, in the end, defeated evil and got to leave the corrupting society. I think that Billy got the final victory.
Billy Budd is a book that deals with good and evil in an organized society. When the unblemished soul is placed in society, the devil will find something through which to corrupt the pure soul. Although Billy was executed in the end, he got the final word, by leaving a good impression on all who knew him.