Billy Budd 2 Essay, Research Paper
Billy Budd, a 19th century novel written by Herman Melville, involves three main characters: Billy Budd, John Claggart and Captain Vere. Throughout the first nineteen chapters, Melville portrays each character with distinct personality, in which case 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. However, chapter twenty contradicts or rather morphs the earlier images of these characters. Though containing only four pages, this chapter is the most important of all, because it revels the unseen traits of each man.
John Claggart represents the epitome of 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 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 into 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- 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.
Unlike Claggart and Billy, Captain Vere s role fluctuates throughout the chapter- from a fatherly role to a military disciplinarian role. Captain Vere like Claggart also sees the charming spirit within Billy Budd. However, unlike Claggart, Vere admires Billy s such spirit without having hatred toward him. Vere really loves Billy, and often one can find that moment of fatherly love in the chapter. Only Vere sees the inexperienced nonage choke in amazement by the accusation and furthermore, the Captain tries to ease the boy by laying a soothing hand on his [Billy] shoulder, telling him to take his time. This simple of act of kindness startles the young sailor even more causing the boy into striking John Claggart. After Claggart drops dead, the Captain suddenly changes his role to a military disciplinarian.
The earlier chapters illustrate each main characters with distinct roles: Claggart as the villain of the story, Captain Vere as the honorable and superior, and Billy Budd as the simple-minded sailor. Claggart morphed into an image of an alien. The handsome sailor turned out to be a brutal killer. Captain Vere’s fatherly trait was taken over by his militarian role. Chapter 20 is no doubt contains the great denounement; the four pages became vital in the story because they uncovered the masks of these three characters.